Does Sink Water Have Lead?

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Drinking a glass of water direct from your sink has become one of the impossible things to enjoy due to water contaminants like lead. If consumed excessively, this colorless, tasteless, and odorless metal can place you as an adult at risk for severe health issues such as kidney-related diseases, cancer, hypertension, and memory loss.

Since lead can be absorbed quicker than adults, small amounts of this metal can cause an even greater risk to these young ones. The ability of lead to go undetected in your water poses a health risk making it an environmental hazard for children of 6 years and below. Therefore, to avoid a lead scare in your children, you should have them take regular blood tests to determine the occurrence of lead poisoning.

So, does sink water have lead? Let’s answer this question and get into the context of the risks, causes, and lead removal measures we can take.

How Does Lead Get into Your Sink Water?

The EPA has taken several steps to reduce lead exposure in drinking water in the last few decades. That said, reducing lead exposure in every home has proven challenging since lead in drinking water can come from households with lead service lines connecting to the main water lines.

Also, if your home lacks a lead service line, you aren’t out of the woods since you may have chrome or brass-plated faucets or water pipes with lead solders. Even though fountains, hoses, sinks for washing hands, and spigots aren’t meant for drinking water, they tend to have lead-lined tanks that may have lead.

When your plumbing materials with lead form a chemical reaction with water having a low mineral content, corrosion of the lead-containing plumbing occurs, thus releasing lead into sink water. With corrosion, water pipes and fixtures such as solders dissolve or wear away from the water acidity.

Here are several factors that are related to the amount of lead that enters your drinking water:

  • Water acidity or alkalinity
  • Mineral types and amounts in your water
  • Lead amount of that comes into contact with water
  • Water temperature
  • Amount of wear in the pipes
  • The period water stays in your pipes
  • Presence of protective scales or coatings in the pipes

What are the Causes of Lead Contamination in Sink Water?

So, what causes lead contamination in your drinking water? Corrosion comes as the main cause for lea to be present in your glass of water. When plumbing fixtures and pipes contain lead corrode, the lead metal in them dissolves or flakes into the water that eventually flows from your faucet to your glass.

Since you can’t detect lead in your drinking water by smelling, tasting, or seeing it, it is easier for the water to look super clear as it flows into your glass.

1. Corrosion of Lead Plumbing

What is corrosion in plumbing? Corrosion occurs when the lead-containing pipes and fixtures react chemically with the flowing water. This reaction can be catalyzed by the acidity of water or other dissolved minerals present that reacts easily with lead.

Corrosion of plumbing can occur depending on the age of the pipes and wear of plumbing fixtures, changes in water temperature, and how long the water has stayed stagnant in the lead-containing pipes.

The following are some of the commonly known lead plumbing sources:

a. Lead Service Lines

You may recognize lead service lines as the large pipes that connect your home or a building to the water main in the street. If you have a lead service line, you should hire professionals from the water company to replace it with a safer alternative such as copper.

b. Lead-Soldered Joints

For household plumbing, you might notice the metal alloy joints used to connect the pipes, which are known as solders. You might come across old buildings built before 1986 that have lead-soldered joints. After 1986, Congress amended the SDWA (Safe Drinking Water Act) that mandated the use of lead-free solder for plumbing, introducing these joints on recent buildings and homes.

c. Plumbing Fixtures

When using plumbing fixtures such as faucets and valves in your home, you can go for ones with a reduced amount of lead that may be labeled as lead-free. Until 2014, it was legal for plumbing fixtures manufacturers to use a large amount of lead when constructing plumbing fixtures like valves and faucets.

That said, you can easily come across plumbing fixtures made of plastic, brass, and chrome-covered ones with reduced levels of lead yet labeled lead-free.

2. Inadequate Municipal Water Treatment

Quality treated water is the right of each person; thus the reason the EPA strictly requires every water utility to conduct quality water monitoring, use corrosion-control treatments, and treat water providing safe drinking water.

Examples you might have come across where several cities failed to treat their water properly. For instance, in 2001, Washington D.C changed its water disinfectant from free chlorine to chloramines. This happened without performing initial studies to investigate whether there would be a potential impact on the general community.

This chloramine disinfectant was found to make the water more corrosive, and this mistake resulted in the city consuming an alarmingly high level of lead in drinking water. To this day, this problem has not yet been completely fixed, and efforts to redo this error are still ongoing.

When the municipal uses an anti-corrosion chemical during water treatment, the chemical prevents lead and metals incorporated in the water pipes from leaching into the water. Such anti-corrosion chemicals, also known as corrosion inhibitors such as zinc orthophosphate, can be used by water treatment systems to coat the inner surface of lead pipes and other lead fixtures.

The coating works by forming a thin protective layer that helps in the reduction of leaching and flaking.

Essential Steps You Can Take to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water

If you notice your first-draw of tap water you’ve tested has a result of more than 15 µg/L, ensure you take the appropriate corrective measures. You can remove lead metal from your water through several treatment methods that vary in cost and the effort you focus on each method.

The following are some of the steps and measures you can take to reduce the amount of lead in your drinking water:

1. Ensure Your Drinking Water is Tested

Before using the sink water in your home, ensure to contact your water utility to have your water tested and have an opportunity to learn more about lead levels in the water. With this information, you can decide on the measures to reduce or eliminate lead in your drinking water.

2. Learn Whether You Have a Lead Service Line

Every home or building has a water pipe that connects to a service line. You may have no idea what type of plumbing is used for your water main, thus the reason to find out more. You can contact your water utility or a professional and licensed plumber to check whether the pipes connecting your home to the service line are a lead service line.

If so, you can opt to have the plumbing replaced or find an alternative way to prevent lead from getting into your sink. For instance, you can hire a professional plumber to install a whole house water filter system that removes lead contaminants from your water without leaving a trace.

3. Flush Your Water

Flushing your water is a measure you can take to reduce the lead exposure in your sink water by letting the water run for a limited amount of time. Since letting the water run down the drain can be wastage and can cause an increase in your water bill, you can opt to do other house chores with the water. For instance, you can do your laundry, clean the dishes, water the plants in your kitchen garden, or take a shower.

By doing so, you will have let go of a significant volume of water that’s concentrated with lead. In addition, the amount of water you flush depends on how long your lead service line is or whether your home has a lead service line or not. Ensure you contact your water utility and acquire recommendations about how often you should flush your water.

4. Learn about Construction in Your Neighborhood

When the area covered by lead service lines is disturbed by ongoing or upcoming constructions and maintenance works, the lead service lines tend to release more lead, thus increasing the exposure to children and adults. If such activities are ongoing in your neighborhood, ensure to notify the workers; thus, they can be extra careful when the marked spots are reached.

5. Use Cold Water

You can use cold water for drinking, cooking, and mixing baby formula. If your water has lead, boiling water for cooking or drinking will not remove the lead. However, boiling lead water will increase its concentration levels, thus dissolving faster in the water and increasing the risks.

When hot water is run through a lead service line, it will increase the corrosion rate than cold water. For such reasons, you should use a different water source when mixing baby formula or cooking if your sink water is lead-contaminated.

6. Clean Your Faucet’s Screen

If you use a faucet with an aerator, you can reduce lead exposure by cleaning out the debris, sediment, and lead particles that may have accumulated in your faucet’s screen. Even after changing the lead service lines, your water can test high lead levels since the collected lead particles on the aerator have no way out.

Steps on How to Clean the Faucet Screen

A faucet screen, also known as an aerator, comes as part of the faucet’s assembly. The faucet screen is a meshed metallic faucet outlet meant to trap all sediment and debris from the water through the faucet. This part of the faucet is not meant to remove or reduce any water contaminants such as heavy metals, micro-organisms, parasites, among others.

Even with the aerator, lead-bearing sediment will contaminate your tap water and end up in your glass. Such sediments may end up in the tap water due to physical corrosion of the lead service line pipes or the leaded solder used to connect the water pipes. This sediment builds up over time in the aerator, leaving you and your family exposed to lead.

The following are the steps you can follow when clean your faucet aerator, thus avoiding the build-up of water contaminants:

Step 1. Remove the Aerator

Using your hands or a pair of pliers, twist off the aerator from the faucet without applying too much force to avoid chipping or cracking.

Step 2. Note the Order of the Parts

After removing the aerator, you will find one or more parts depending on the type and model of the faucet. As you remove each part, ensure to note down the order and orientation of each part. You can do this by listing the parts on paper or drawing some sketches for easier reinstallation.

Step 3. Rinse the Aerator Pieces

Using a small soft brush, rinse off the debris trapped on the aerator pieces. You might encounter some deposits that have stained the aerator or are challenging to remove. Soak the parts in water for several minutes and use a toothbrush to scrub out the rest of the deposits for this type of deposit.

Backwashing is a common cleaning method for some aerators, whereby you hold the removed piece upside down and hold it under a stung stream of water to backwash the mesh filters and screens.

Step 4. Reassemble the aerator

Your aerator pieces are clean and ready for reassembling. At this point, ensure to refer to your list or sketches to avoid mistakes. You can now reassemble the aerator and screw it back to the faucet mouth, hand tighten it, or use a pair of pliers.

If you notice a crack or broken part, replace it, and you are ready to go! You can also replace the washer too if it has signs of hardening.

7. Use Your Filter Properly

When buying a lead filtering system, ensure it is NSF-certified to remove lead. To avoid mistakes that may cost you your health, you can hire a professional plumber to install the filtering system and let the expert teach you how to use and replace the filter cartridges. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how long you can use a cartridge without extending the usage way after it has expired.

An expired filtering cartridge works less effectively at removing lead contaminants in your water, thus posing yourself at a high-level exposure. Also, it is not safe for you to attempt cleaning the filter, especially with hot water, since you will be increasing its concentration.

Have your water utility test the level of lead contamination in your water for you to have a clue on the strength of a filter system you should buy. Taking this option is among the safest way to ensure you are not exposed to lead poisoning.

8. Opt for Bottled Drinking Water

If your water has high levels of lead contaminants that you cannot control or reduce, you can opt for an alternative source for your drinking water, bottled water. With the complete usage of bottled water as your drinking and cooking water option, you can rest assured you have eliminated any exposure to lead.

This is because you are sure the water you are drinking has been tested and certified. That said, going for bottled water might not be the most cost-effective option for long-term use.

What are the Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water?

The SDWA (Safe Drinking Water Act) requires the EPA to test and determine the level of the contaminants like lead in drinking water and ensure the levels have no adverse effects on the consumers. If there are, they occur at a safe and controllable margin. Such health goals are solely based on the possible health risks, thus the maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs).

The maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water set by EPA is currently set at zero since lead in drinking water is toxic and is harmful to human health. Children are more prone to lead poisoning even at low levels of exposure.

In expectant mothers, lead can cause premature birth since it is persistent and absorbed in the mother’s bones, thus accumulating in the body. Later, the body produces the lead as maternal calcium, which can affect the growth of the fetus.

In children or infants, lead effects tend to be more intense since their physical and behavioral impacts of lead occur at a lower lead exposure level in the young ones than in adults. A small amount of lead in drinking water can have severe effects on young children compared to adults. In a child, low lead levels of exposure are known to cause damage to the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

In addition, the child is likely to suffer from impacts including shorter stature, impaired formation and hearing, learning disabilities, and impaired function of the blood cells. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health actions for the general public should be taken into account when the child’s blood level is 5µg/dL or more.

1. Children

As a parent or guardian, it is crucial to learn and understand how your child can be exposed to lead. There are several ways your child can be exposed to lead, such as dust particles, air, paint from home, school, or a surrounding building they are in contact with, and lead in drinking water.

From a blood test, you can find your child’s level of lead in the blood is more than the CDC’s action level of 5µg/dL, which means the lead exposure is from more than one source.

EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20% or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40% to 60% of their exposure to lead from drinking water.

Even with the lowest exposure to lead levels, children tend to risk suffering from

  • Anemia
  • Slowed growth
  • Difficulties in hearing
  • Low IQ and hyperactivity
  • Behavior and learning problems.

In cases where lead levels are high and indigestible, children get seizures and can go in a coma or, even worse, death.

2. Pregnant Women

Lead metal can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in the bones along with the calcium mineral. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother’s bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the fetus’s bones.

This is common for women who do not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus to the effects of lead. This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing fetus, including:

  • Reduced growth of the fetus
  • Premature birth

3. Adults

Although adults suffer from lead poisoning when consumed at extremely high levels, the health impact is equally serious.

In adults, an increase in lead levels or the presence of lead in water can result in heart-related problems, dysfunction of the kidneys, increased blood pressure, reproduction-related problems in both genders, and incidence of hypertension.

How do You Identify Lead Service Lines?

If you are not conversant with water service line types or how they look, here are some ways you can identify a lead service line.

1. Color

A lead service line appears as a dull gray color, and when you touch it, it is very soft. Using a key, you can carefully scratch the lead pipe and identify the difference with other pipes. If it is a lead pipe, the scratched area will turn a bright silver color that can stand out from other pipes.

That said, be careful when scratching a pipe made of lead and avoid using a knife or any other sharp object since it can puncture a hole in the lead pipe.

2. Check the Connectors

During plumbing, a lead service line can be connected to a residential water line using solder. Also, it has a unique solder that looks like a bulb at the end, a compression fitting, or a connector made of corroded bronze or iron.

So, ensure to look out for these characterized connectors and differentiate between a lead service line and the ordinary water line.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is sink water bad for you?

If not treated properly, sink water can cause more harm due to the metal contaminants present. For instance, lead in tap water is a problem that has been with us for centuries, thus causing health risks for children and adults such as low IQ and decreased kidney functioning.

Other metal contaminants in drinking water include aluminum, copper, mercury, chromium, and cadmium. Also, aluminum metal in tap water tends to increase risks of health conditions such as brain deformities.

2. How much lead is in tap water?

Dust and the food we eat accounts for other sources of lead exposure leading to the set maximum concentration of lead allowed by the U.S. EPA of 15 µg/L in your tap water.

Before using the tap water in your home, ensure to contact your water utility to have your water tested and have an opportunity to learn more about lead levels in the water. With this information, you can decide on the appropriate measures to reduce or eliminate lead in your drinking water.

3. Does all tap water contain lead?

Tap water in your home or building can test positive for lead, thus putting everyone who consumes it at high risk of lead poisoning and other health risks. The main contributors of the lead contaminants in tap water include having a lead service line that connects to the main water, lead-containing faucets, and other plumbing fixtures such as solders made of lead.

If you notice the presence of a lead service line, faucets, and other household plumbing fixtures containing lead in your water supply line, ensure to hire a professional plumber who can replace these parts with lead-free safer alternatives such as copper made materials or those with a safe level of lead.

4. Can you get sick from drinking sink water?

Yes, you can. If there is lead in drinking water, the main risk in human bodies is lead poisoning which can be quite a nightmare for your health. Also, if your water has low chlorine levels, you are more likely to be exposed to the giardia parasite that causes nausea, diarrhea, and cramps.

If there is exposure to lead levels, children tend to suffer from anemia, slowed growth, difficulties in hearing, low IQ and hyperactivity, and behavior and learning problems. In cases where lead levels are high and indigestible, children get seizures and can go in a coma or, even worse, death.

In adults, an increase in lead levels or the presence of lead in water can result in heart-related problems, dysfunction of the kidneys, increased blood pressure, reproduction-related problems in both genders, and incidence of hypertension.

In addition, pregnant women can experience premature births and reduced fetus growth since lead accumulated in the bones can act up as maternal calcium during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus to lead.

5. Which measures can you take to reduce lead levels in your sink water?

If you have lead pipes or a lead service line that is extremely long or your household plumbing contains corroded iron pipes, the flushing tactic to reduce lead in water may not be effective or practical. In such cases, you can opt to hire a household plumbing professional to replace the lead pipes.

For homes with lead service lines that are short and controllable, you can opt for measures such as regular flushing of water before drinking, ensuring your water is tested by your water utility more often, and working closely with your community to learn more about the effects of lead in water.

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