Get the lead out
April 8, 2016 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I live in one of those locations in the US where we have high levels of lead in the water, according to recent reputable news stories. Unsurprisingly, my tap water tastes like metal garbage. My Brita is not really filtering out the taste. What kind of filter do I need to buy, or do I need to stick to water I buy from the store (which seems insane)?

I looked for other filters online and found that Brita doesn't do as well at filtering out lead in tests, but the sources seem questionable. Is this possible? Are there better options?

I moved here recently, so this isn't a case of "now that I know about the lead, water tastes bad." However, it tastes a lot worse recently - like chlorine and other new stuff. I'm interested in ways to easily get potable drinking water in my home from my tap. I rent, so I can't, like, replace my plumbing or something (and this is a problem throughout my city anyhow) but assume other expensive options are on the table. Buying water at the store is possible, but very difficult for me. It also seems ludicrous.
posted by sockermom to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The NSF has a program to certify water filters for lead removal. Here is their page listing all the certified models, including a number that mount directly on the faucet, which is probably the best option for you (less hassle than the pitcher filters, but doesn't require any plumbing changes as you just screw it on to the end of your kitchen tap). You can find that kind of filter pretty much anywhere and then just check to make sure it is on the certified list for lead removal.
posted by ssg at 7:35 PM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

We don't have lead in our water (that I know of), but the reverse osmosis filter system we have claims to filter out the vast majority of any lead in the water.
posted by primethyme at 7:48 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Metallic tasting water often simply means you are drinking well sourced water. Do you get a lot of residue when you boil water? Hard waters typically leave mineral rings and they will give your water a noticeable metallic taste that is particularly salient if you grew up somewhere drinking water from a lake or river instead.

Chlorine will go up or down in time depending on conditions at the water source (and you want it in your water because the stuff that the chlorine is put in to kill off is very bad - like kill you quickly bad).

Maybe the only way you feel reassured is to get your water tested for lead so you can decide if it is worth the trouble of buying water or getting a filter setup.

Also don't use any water until you have run the water for a while - a first thing shower is a good way to clear the water that has stood in your pipes overnight. In my apartment I have to run the water for 10 steamboats before using it as there is usually some disturbing yellow water that comes out about 5 steamboats in (I only know about this because I have white ice cube trays!)
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 PM on April 8, 2016

This is definitely not well water. I live in a metropolis. Also, what is a "steamboat" in this context?
posted by sockermom at 8:46 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Five dollars, same as in town?

Seriously thought, a "steamboat" is a method of keeping time while counting: ONE-steam-boat TWO-steam-boat, sorta like ONE-Mississippi TWO-Mississippi. Each steamboat is about a second.
posted by zebra at 9:25 PM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

.30 per gallon in refillable 5 gallon jugs. Especially if you rent and the pipes are old, this is cheapest most reliable way to do it. Sediment from pipes clogs home filters fast.
posted by jbenben at 9:28 PM on April 8, 2016

The classic water cooler is what jbenben is describing. We had one in suburban D.C. just because the municipal water tasted so bad.
posted by yclipse at 4:37 AM on April 9, 2016

You can still have well water in a metropolis -- I do! There may be a large municipal well or spring that supplies a large portion of the city water. It's not just backyard off-grid systems or small rural areas. The well in my city provided city water to 100,000 people before they had to give in and add river water sources. The well water is hella cleaner and healthier and much to be preferred to the effluvient-filled, algae-riddled river water.

The increase in chlorine may be due to summer ... My local water treatment varies by the weather, with noticibly more anti-germ type stuff in the summer when algae and bacteria and whatnot grow faster. Chlorine, specifically, evaporates off very quickly in an open container so if you get a cup of water, go to the bathroom, and come back, your water will be noticeably less chloriney. (Gardeners do this for delicate plants who can't take chlorine.) If you haven't lived there long, these may just be seasonal changes in treatment protocols that you're noticing.

The metallic taste is almost certainly hard water with dissolved minerals (which is healthier than soft water, for your teeth and bones and heart), and not metals such as lead per se, which isn't very tasteable (which is part of what makes it scary). HOWEVER you should request your municipal water reports, which they must by law provide you (in the US), to see what's in your water. It will contain info about the water at the source, after treatment, and at a sampling of residential taps (seriously only like 10, but it gives you an idea what the city pipes tend to be like). And then have it tested at the tap yourself, which will let you know what's dissolving off your particular pipes. This may be available free or low cost through either your utility or your county health department. That's the only way to know what's in your tap water, and comparing it to the water reports will give you a good idea if it's your house's plumbing or the city system that's the issue.

(If it's just hard water, no lead, it's good for you! Americans tend to dislike the taste because they're conditioned to very soft water, but Europeans often prefer harder water. I always joke to people complaining about our local, super-hard tap water that if this were Europe, we'd bottle and sell it as a high end mineral water and people would love it, but since it's America we whine that our tap water has terroir.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:12 AM on April 9, 2016

BTW, it's not TOO hard to get information like "how old are the pipes in my neighborhood and what are they made of?" from the city. And a plumber will happily tell you what your building's pipes are made of (and they often know what the local mains are just off the tops of their heads).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:18 AM on April 9, 2016

Yeah, you're not tasting lead. Hard water tastes metallic, and it doesn't only source from wells. And it isn't bad for you.

The only way you can know your lead levels is to have your water tested.
posted by spitbull at 5:24 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is not well water. It comes from a large river and is treated before making its way to my home.

This is not me being picky about a metallic taste that is actually good for me. I wish I could have you people over to try a glass. None of you would drink it. It's a frequent topic of conversation at work, the fact that (a) The water tastes terrible where we live, and (b) The news reported that the water here isn't OK to drink. We apparently have Water Advisories warning us to boil water from the city government frequently, although I haven't been here long enough to have experienced that yet.

In any case, it's bad for me to be dehydrated because my water tastes like garbage, even when I boil it. I would like potable drinking water that tastes like nothing or faintly metallic.

I am still wondering if someone has a recommendation for a specific water filter I can use to help this issue.
posted by sockermom at 5:55 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

They have free water testing kits at home depot. (Just a plastic vial that you mail in) l would ask there and, in the meantime, yes absolutely be drinking bottled water...Lead is about the worst thing you can ingest, like permanent brain damage bad.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:58 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

DIY filter stacked plastic buckets, bottom bucket spigot at a level you can get a glass under, Top bucket has holes in the bottom covered inside with paper basket type filter, first layer: charcoal from the aquarium place, next layer: perlite from the garden place, most important thickest layer: clean quartz sand topped with a funnel lid .
similar concept
posted by hortense at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2016

Just get a lead-certified filter of whatever type you prefer—faucet mount, carafe, under-sink-mount, whatever—and run your drinking water through that. Change the filter on schedule. They do a fine job of removing lead, as well as other minerals that are likely affecting the flavor of your water. (I don't think anyone here is denying that these are problems, we're just saying that they're separate problems.) It'll be cheaper and better for the environment than doing 5-gallon water jugs, and you won't need to have a separate cooler unit. Though that is certainly a viable solution also, and if you feel more comfortable with that route then go ahead. Home water filtration is largely a solved problem though.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

To be clear, a boil warning is for bacteria and not for minerals or heavy metals as boiling just increases the concentration of the metals as water evaporates but the things inside it don't. But heat kills a many of nasties.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:01 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you have both water taste issues and lead issues, you may be able to find a filter which will help both of those issues (most commonly, an activated carbon filter).

To figure out what each model of filter is certified to remove aside from lead, take any of the filters models on ssg's list and search it through NSF's website here. Each model will list the specific compounds that they have certified under their claim. Note that they might have claims for both NSF-52 and 53 certification, which are different filtration certifications that NFS offers.

Some explanations:

* NSF-53, which is the certification which lead falls under, covers filtration of contaminants which cause health effects. Aside from lead, that includes some organic compounds (like pesticides), other dangerous metals, and pathogens like Cryptosporidium.

* NSF-52 covers filtration of contaminants which cause aesthetic effects. This may be listed as "taste and odour" - however, in the water treatment field, this generally refers to some specific compounds that cause musty/stale smells (MIB and geosmin). This probably isn't the issue you're facing, although this certification may cover some compounds that could cause the gross taste. See my next point.

* Your city water provider, under EPA law, must publish annual water quality reports online. You can have a look at this to try and sort out the root of the metallic taste, if it isn't lead (anything over health/aesthetic limits may need to be flagged in the report, although I'm not positive about that). It could be hardness, but it also could be specific metals like iron and manganese (they tend to be associated with colour issues too), or total dissolved solids.

Without getting super technical, you might be able to remove some iron/manganese with an activated carbon filter although it won't be certified to do so (it depends on the "state" of the metal). For hardness, you could get a small ion exchange under-the-counter unit, which would also work for iron/manganese - they're a bit of a pain because you need to recharge them with salt. If it's TDS, you may be out of luck unless you want to get an RO system.
posted by Paper rabies at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2016

« Older Flirting? Via messaging?   |   Are you a politically progressive person? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.