Corrosive Water and Lead Contamination In Water Wells
Lead is a naturally occurring metal that when found in well water can pose a threat to human health.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set strict regulations to limit the amount of lead in drinking water. Municipal water systems are regulated via the Safe Drinking Water Act with the public health goal being a lead concentration level of zero.
While this admirable goal exists, the fact is that there is a maximum allowable EPA-regulated action level for lead in public water systems of 15 ppb (parts per billion). This is based on samples taken from within a system. If more than 10% of the homes tested exceed this level, the water system must apply treatment to reduce the corrosiveness of the water. State and local regulations are typically more stringent than Federal laws.
While the Federal government requires testing of municipal supplies, these regulations do not apply to private wells. Homeowners are responsible for testing. As a result, lead is rarely quantified in groundwater that supplies private wells.
Sources of Lead Contamination In Private Wells
In private wells, lead typically enters the water system in one of two primary ways. The first is the erosion of lead-bearing geological materials. In New Hampshire (the Granite State) and parts of Massachusetts, granite formations have been associated with elevated levels of lead in groundwater. Typically granite formations containing minerals such as amphibole, potassium/sodium feldspar and quartz have been shown to raise lead levels.
The more common source of elevated lead levels in drinking water is household plumbing. The Reduction in Lead in Drinking Water Act went into effect in January of 2014. This act addresses the use of lead in plumbing components like pipes, pipe fittings, and plumbing fixtures. Homes with copper pipes installed before 1986 may have been joined with solder containing lead. As pipes age, this solder can break down and this alone can cause dangerous levels of lead in the home's drinking water.
Less common in newer homes is the presence of lead pipes. Older homes built prior to 1930 often incorporated lead pipes, but they may be found in homes built after that date. Be aware that the age of a home is not enough to determine if lead pipes are present.
Older well components can also be a source of lead contamination. This is fairly uncommon, but prior to the mid-1990's lead packers were sometimes used to help seal the well above the intake screen and some types of older submersible pumps had brass fittings which can leach lead due to corrosion. If your well or pump dates prior to the mid-90's it may make sense to have it checked for the presence of lead components.
Corrosion and Lead Contamination
Lead is able to react as both a base element and an acidic one, meaning that it is susceptible to corrosion both above and below natural pH. Lead present in the piping is released more easily in corrosive water. Because of its nature, any type of water can potentially contain high levels of lead if it is present in lead pipes, solder connections or brass fittings in a corrosive environment.
Warmer water, water that has a low pH or water that contains fewer total dissolved solids is generally more corrosive. Naturally, soft water is generally more corrosive than naturally hard water. Corrosion can also be caused by several other factors including:
• Galvanic action due to the connection of two dissimilar metals such as stainless steel and copper pipes. This is capable of dissolving piping and creating leaks.
• Using pipes as electric ground sources, including telephone lines. Electricity traveling through pipes into the water can facilitate corrosion.
If you are purchasing a home, or live in a home that is supplied by a private well, it's important to test your ground water's pH along with testing for lead. The EPA recommends annual testing. Lead is odorless, colorless and tasteless at levels that can be of concern. The only way to be sure is to test.
Water Treatment When Lead Contamination is Present
If lead is detected during testing, don't panic! Treatment options are available that can significantly lower levels or eliminate them completely. First, whenever possible is the cause is through leaching from older plumbing fixtures, replace them with newer models that meet the current federal requirements.
Another option is installing a whole house water treatment system that is certified to meet the NSF/ANSI standards for lead reduction. These include reverse osmosis (RO) systems, filtration systems, and distilling systems. If you install a treatment system, remember that most will have replaceable components such as filters, or they will require regular service. Make sure you follow the manufacturers instructions and replace filters regularly.
If you have any questions, give Skillings and Sons a call. We're happy to help you arrange to test your well water, work with you to analyze the results. If lead is found, we can explain your options for remediation of the lead in your drinking water. We offer a range of water treatment systems that can remove lead from your home's drinking water. Just give contact us, we're always ready to help!