The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought international attention to the poor state of infrastructure in the United States. While the Flint tragedy is unprecedented, many environmental groups have pointed out that Flint is not alone. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates the U.S. drinking water infrastructure a Grade D. Over the coming decades it could cost as much at $1 trillion to replace all the pipes in a hundred year old system that has reached the end of its useful life.
While most water in the U.S. is safe to drink, there is a lot you should know about assuring a safe supply of drinking water for your family. You should contact your local water authority if you are concerned about the potential for lead in your drinking water.
Is my tap water safe to drink and use?
The Safe Drinking Water Act has made drinking water much safer over the past decades. While lead has been banned in plumbing pipes and fixtures, many homes still have lead service lines or pipes and faucets that contain lead. Corrosion in older connections, solder, or faucets can cause lead to leach into water. It is very difficult to know or learn whether you have lead service lines or fixtures containing lead. Some cities have databases showing whether you have lead service connectors. If you find that you do have a lead service line, follow the recommended guidelines below.
Having your water tested is the only way to know for sure if your water contains lead. You can check with your local water department and ask for results from municipal testing of tap water. For a fee you can have your water tested by a private lab.
Should I filter my water?
In general, tap water from municipal water systems does not need to be filtered at the house. However, filtering can give you the peace of mind that your water is safe. Additionally, because hot water can cause lead to leach from pipes, it is important to drink and cook only with cold water. Boiling water does protect against bacteria. However, boiling does not lower lead levels in the water and may make things worse.
When purchasing water filters for lead, be sure to only buy units that are NSF certified and have been independently verified to be able to reduce lead from 0.150 mg/L to 0.010 mg/L or less. Read this NSF Guide to Certified Product Listings for Lead Reduction.
If you find that you have lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion, it is important to follow these recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
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From the CDC:
This information is very important. It determines which of the next two actions (A or B) you should follow to protect your household's health.
- A) If the pipe in the street (header pipe) DOES NOT have lead, the lead in your tap water may be coming from fixtures, pipes, or elsewhere inside your home.
Until you eliminate the source, you should take the following steps any time you wish to use tap water for drinking or cooking, especially when the water has been off and sitting in the pipes for more than 6 hours:
- a. Before using any tap water for drinking or cooking, flush your water system by running the kitchen tap (or any other tap you take drinking or cooking water from) on COLDfor 1-2 minutes;
- b. Then, fill a clean container(s) with water from this tap. This water will be suitable for drinking, cooking, preparation of baby formula, or other consumption. To conserve water, collect multiple containers of water at once (after you have fully flushed the water from the tap as described).
B) If the pipe at the street (header pipe) DOES contain lead, lead in the tap water may be coming from that pipe or connected pipes (it may also be coming from sources inside your home).
Until the lead source is eliminated, you should take the following steps any time you wish to use tap water for drinking or cooking, especially when the water has been off and sitting in the pipes for more than 6 hours. Please note that additional flushing is necessary:
- a. Before using any tap water for drinking or cooking, run high-volume taps (such as your shower) on COLD for 5 minutes or more;
b. Then, run the kitchen tap on COLD for 1-2 additional minutes;
- c. Fill a clean container(s) with water from this tap. This water will be suitable for drinking, cooking, preparation of baby formula, or other consumption. To conserve water, collect multiple containers of water at once (after you have fully flushed the water from the tap as described)."
To learn more about lead in drinking water, visit the EPA website.