What can you do about lead in the water?
September 4, 2019 3:35 PM   Subscribe

If your home’s water supply tests positive for high levels of lead, in a city with notoriously high lead in the water, what proven steps can you take to make the water supply safe?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Only use cold tap water for consumption, and run the water for 5 minutes to flush the pipes every time water has been sitting in the pipes for a few hours. Lead leaches from the pipe into the water, and prolonged contact with the pipe, or heat, both mean more leached lead.

You can add a filter to the kitchen drinking water- we installed one under our sink, brand name Kube.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:41 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

What is the actual source of lead in the water? Usually it is from old pipes, either on the city side or the residential side of the meter. Cities can add chemicals to the water supply to reduce water corrosivity (although historically this is not very effective long-term). They can also replace pipes as they are slowly doing in Pittsburgh, PA.

In the short-term, there are whole-house and tap-side water filters that are effective against lead. Whole-house is only good if you've already replaced any lead pipes or brass faucets/valves downstream.
posted by muddgirl at 3:42 PM on September 4, 2019

See if you can find the exact numbers for "high" and "unusually high."

Our log cabin tested "high" in arsenic - but the entire (commercial farming!!) region naturally has elevated arsenic levels, but the actual numbers reveal that it really isn't something to unnecessarily worry about.
posted by porpoise at 3:47 PM on September 4, 2019

Filters are the way to go. If you're going to be installing filters at multiple outlets it might be worthwhile to buy one and have the water tested after using the filter to make sure it works before buying additional filters.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:07 PM on September 4, 2019

Reverse osmosis filters will work, but they are very inefficient in that home-scale systems typically discard as much as 90% of the water in order to remove the pollutants from that last 10%. This is fine if you are only going to filter your drinking and cooking water, but it would probably not be appropriate for an entire house.

Also in theory Brita pitchers and other activated carbon filters claim to "reduce" lead, but I'm not familiar with non-advertising support for this claim. It may be true to an extent, but the Water Quality Association indicates you may need a special lead adsorption material in addition to the carbon, and I'm not finding a way to filter for products which include that feature.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:52 PM on September 4, 2019

Lead is usually coming from the pipes, not the water supply itself. If the city has notoriously high levels of lead in the water, I'm wondering if that means it has lots of old houses with old leaded pipes...

Here's the advice from the US EPA about how to deal with this.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:23 PM on September 4, 2019

I don't know what the best long term solution is for a whole house. However, for potable water (drinking, cooking, brushing teeth), you want to make sure that your short term or long term solution involves a filter that meets NSF 53 standards. We were in a rental with lead problems, and couldn't afford to do any major renovations. So we had an Aquasana where you could filter a whole pitcher in a few minutes in the kitchen and then left pitchers of filtered water in the bathrooms. It was loud, and the water tasted flat (too many minerals removed), but we had some reasonable confidence that drinking it was fine. (And we had the kid tested for lead multiple times before we could move, and his levels did not measurably increase.) I'm sure that the other filters that allude to lead removal are probably doing something, but NSF certification is the only one I'm aware of that allows evidence-backed commercial lead removal claims.

If you soften your water, you should stop doing so. "Softening" is adding salts into the water, and often makes it easier for lead from pipes /soldered joints etc to leach in.

My guess is you know this, but just in case - lead isn't really absorbed into the skin via water, so technically you can bathe in it, though of course you'd want to be super careful about not ingesting any (we abstained from washing our faces with non-filtered water.)

Again, apologies if you already know this, but home testing kits are not that reliable or regulated. If you didn't already, you should get your water tested by a professional service. Ideally you want to get a sample of water first thing in the morning (before anyone even flushes a toilet!) from at least two different taps in the house.

Lead poisoning is cumulative (builds up over time), and exits the body very slowly. On the plus side, every credible source I found suggested that any one slip-up / exposure to high levels is unlikely to cause specific meaningful harm, but every action you can take to reduce the chances of overall consumption is worth it.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 7:44 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Use a really good filter, and buy water for drinking and cooking. I would look into lead abatement for the supply pipe coming in to your house. Lead poisoning is bad for you, especially bad for kids. My grocery sells water in big containers you have to pay a deposit on.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2019

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