What to know and do about lead in water ​

little girl with water
Have you checked to see if your water has lead in it? The crisis in Flint, Michigan due to lead in its drinking water has focused attention on this issue. Closer to home, school districts have also found some lead problems in their water.

Maren Nelson, a nurse practitioner at Salem Health Medical Clinic – 12th Street, encourages you to make sure your drinking water is safe. “As a primary care provider and someone who drinks water, having safe drinking water for everyone is important to me,” says Nelson.

Why lead is in water

The amount of lead in tap water was greatly reduced following the Safe Drinking Water Act about 20 years ago. Even so, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says lead still can be found in some metal water taps, interior water pipes, or pipes connecting a house to the main water pipe in the street. Lead found in tap water usually comes from the corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply.

Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. Regardless of your home’s age, remodeling or plumbing changes can also unleash lead problems.

How to know if you have a problem

You can’t see, taste or smell lead in drinking water, but you can find out if your home has a problem. For homes served by a public water system, the system is required to provide residents a water quality report. The report may be on the system’s website, or you can call and ask for it. You can also get your home’s water tested.

What else you can do

“Make sure your youngsters get their regular checkups,” says Nelson. “Primary care providers want to see children on a regular schedule, especially infants who develop so quickly. Providers may start to see nutritional deficiencies, neurocognitive delays, and behavioral problems. The earlier those are found, and the earlier the source of any problem is found, the better. If your child exhibits any cognitive delays, it will trigger your provider to do a lead test.”

Nelson provides these additional tips:

  • As an adult, you may not be affected by lead in the water. But children, such as infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water, may be at higher risk because of the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size.
  • If you think you are seeing any sort of developmental delay or behavioral problems in your child, talk to your provider.
  • Pregnant? Ask your provider to check your lead levels because you can pass lead to your baby through the placenta.
  • If you think your home may have a lead problem, use bottled or filtered water for cooking and drinking while you are waiting for test results.

Nelson encourages you to be informed and then take action. Informed people taking action is what led to the Safe Drinking Water Act.