Lead in Water


Lead exposure can result in a number of health effects and is especially dangerous for children. With the exception of exposure to lead in pipes and fittings in older buildings, water is rarely a primary source of lead exposure. The EPA heavily regulates lead in water, paints, and other products. Unfortunately, the Flint, Michigan water contamination crisis has highlighted that lead in water can still be a real problem even today, so it is important to know the facts.Lead in Water

The Effects of Lead in Water

Lead has no known benefit biologically for humans. The metal can damage several systems in the human body including reproductive, renal and nervous systems. Lead poisoning can cause anemia and high blood pressure. It can accumulate in the bones and can sometimes be diagnosed from a blue line forming around the gums.

Lead is particularly dangerous when consumed by children and pregnant women. Research has shown that lead harms the developing brain in young children and fetuses. It also interferes with Vitamin D and calcium metabolism. This can result in irreversible consequences in children including behavioral problems, mental retardation and learning disabilities. According to CDC data, blood levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can have detrimental effects on behavior and learning in children. Extremely high lead levels can be trigger coma, convulsions, and a fatal reaction.

How Lead Gets into Water

It is possible to experience lead exposure through ingestion, air contamination or water contamination. Exhaust fumes from leaded gasoline vehicles; industrial activities and waste sites can contaminate the air. Water contamination is relatively low compared to air exposure. The most common source of lead contamination in drinking water is leaching from old lead piping as in the Flint scenario. Lead was commonly used for plumbing pipes and fixtures before the 1920s, so older buildings may have existing lead pipes. Removing lead pipes can be expensive, but as the pipes age, they tend to deteriorate (regardless of the corrosiveness of the water) and slowly dissolve, contaminating the water supply.

The secondary cause of lead contamination is industrial activities. Certain industries can produce effluents that contaminate water sources.

Protecting Your Family from Lead and other contaminates 

One of the most effective ways to ensure that your family is protected from lead contaminated water is a domestic water treatment solution. Generally, reverse osmosis systems will remove all molecular compounds that are larger in size than the water molecules.  R.O. devices for the home are typically fitted in the kitchen under the sink or where drinking water is used.  In larger homes or for commercial applications, much larger units are employed with much greater capacity than under counter devices (. This type of apparatus is effective in removing a range of inorganic materials including lead. While some water filters can be very effective, R.O. systems are commonly considered for scenarios where there is a need for maximum lead reduction.

Reverse Osmosis systems can remove lead and other dissolved minerals by using pressure to force incoming water through a semi-permeable membrane to screen out most contaminants.  This membrane contains pores of a microscopic size, which only allow the smallest molecules to pass through. Water molecules are small in comparison to the size of dissolved mineral molecules, so as the water is squeezed through the membrane, the minerals and contaminants are left behind. If an R.O. unit is properly installed by a water treatment professional and operated as designed, it has the capacity to remove between 90% and 99 % of any dissolved lead in a water supply.

About The Author, Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska:

With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative.  EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state and Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices.

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