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Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a naturally occurring non-ferrous metal found in the earth’s crust. It has been used in commercial and household products for thousands of years. In the past lead was used in paint, gasoline, pottery, water pipes and other products. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body. Children and adults can get lead poisoning though ingesting (eating) or inhaling (breathing) materials or dusts that contain lead). There is no safe level of lead. When lead is absorbed, it has an adverse affect on your nervous systems. Animals are also adversely affected from inhaling or ingesting lead.

Medical research shows that lead can harm human health even at low exposure levels.

Lead poisoning is widespread and preventable. Some of the adverse effects of lead include learning abnormalities and behavioral problems in children.

Kids are more vulnerable to lead than adults; but lead effects all human health and the environment.

The combination of high toxicity, a long life in the environment, and the ability to build up in food chains makes lead one of the most problematic chemicals in commerce for human and ecological health.

Lead in Drinking Water

Lead in drinking water usually comes from water distribution lines or a building's plumbing rather than from the water system source. Plumbing materials containing lead corrode and release lead when they are in contact with water. Lead may be present if there are:

  • lead or copper pipes
  • fixtures, or fittings made with brass, bronze or other alloys
  • lead solder was used on the pipes
  • the water is acidic (soft)

Lead-contaminated drinking water is most often a problem in buildings that are either very old or very new.

  • Older buildings have higher levels of lead in plumbing materials.
  • Newer systems leach lead more rapidly than old ones because the fittings are in direct contact with the water.

As time passes, mineral deposits form a coating on the inside of the pipes (if the water is not corrosive). This coating insulates the water from the solder. But, during the first five years (before the coating forms) water is in direct contact with the lead. More likely than not, water in buildings less than five years old has high levels of lead contamination. Lead levels in water decrease as the building ages. New brass faucets and fittings can also leach lead, even though they are “lead-free.”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates between 10 and 20 percent of total lead exposures in young children are from drinking water. The only way to find out if water has lead is to have it tested by a certified laboratory. Call the Clark County Public Health (360- 397-8428) or your local water supplier for information about testing your water. Consumer filtration devices may not be effective.


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