Many of us have become aware of the dangers of both lead and chloramine in our drinking water supplies in recent years. But, recent studies seem to show that there could be a link between chloramine and the higher lead levels that we’ve seen in our water. Let’s examine this water quality issue in more detail.

Lead is a Highly Toxic Contaminant

We’ve known about the highly toxic properties of lead for many decades now. In fact, lead was considered to be so highly toxic that it was banned from paint, children’s toys and as a gasoline additive more than thirty years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of zero for lead in our drinking water supplies. Exposure to lead is known to cause severe damage to the nervous system, a decrease in bone growth and muscle mass, and it can cause developmental learning disorders in infant and young children. Exposure to lead over a prolonged period of time can cause seizures, poor muscle coordination, and organ damage. No exposure to lead in any concentration is considered to be safe by the EPA and other health related organizations.

The Link Between Chloramines and Lead

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that replacing chlorine with chloramine for water disinfection has increased the level of lead that’s leaching into our water supplies. When chloramines are combined with a fluoride additive, this can promote elevated levels of lead in drinking water. Sadly, many cities and towns across our nation have added fluoride to the public water supply, and this could result in similar lead exposure problems that we’ve seen reported in Flint, Michigan, and other locations. Of course, in that particular situation, corrosive water was to blame, but the end result would still be a widespread lead contamination problem.

What Happens When Chloramines Replace Chlorine?

When the free chlorine that was traditionally used to disinfect public drinking water is replaced with chloramines, an interesting interaction takes place. Highly insoluble scale minerals are created which are no longer stable, and they cannot be dissolved. When this water passes through the service lines, it can cause a significant amount of lead to be released into that drinking water where it’s dissolved. Water is a highly effective solvent, and aside from a metallic taste, there is no way to see or smell the lead contaminants in drinking water. Only a laboratory test will reveal the presence of lead in any given water supply.

The CDC reviewed a possible link between an increase in Blood Lead Levels (BLLs) and changes in water disinfection methods. Interestingly. A relationship between higher BLLs in children and lead service lines was discovered, and this was especially pronounced between 2001-2004 when chloramines were adopted for disinfection without adequate corrosion measures in place.

The Dangers of Lead Contamination

The use of chloramines for water disinfection is unlikely to stop any time soon. Many studies have shown that chloramines in plumbing systems that use lead pipes, solder, and fixtures, could alter the water chemistry and result in lead poisoning. The exact amount of lead leached into a home could vary depending on a number of factors, but as we have seen, the EPA considers any lead exposure to be unsafe. Fortunately, there are water treatments systems available to safely removed lead from your drinking water. Contact your local WQA certified water treatment professional for expert help and advice.

By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.