Well Water Contaminants FAQ: Lead

Waterborne Lead Contamination Facts

Waterborne Lead Contamination Facts

Waterborne lead contamination is dangerous and must be removed from your water supply. Get the facts and take action.

The recent news about lead contamination in Flint Michigan and the fallout that followed has brought lead back into the consciousness of Americans. Poisoning caused by lead contamination isn't only a problem with water delivered by municipalities. If you own a private well, or your house has copper or lead pipes and your water is corrosive you may have lead present in your drinking water. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes seals and fittings. Until 1997 some brass faucets used in home plumbing contained up to 8% lead. Water sitting in pipes can sometimes leach lead if the water has been present for an extended period.

Here in New England and New Hampshire both surface water and ground water tend to have a low pH and is slightly corrosive and can cause lead to leach from pipes, so testing is important. If your water shows signs of copper like blue-green staining on tubs and sinks, you may also have lead present as the two metals are often found together. Test for contamination.

What follows are some frequently asked questions and answers about lead and what to do if it is present in your drinking water.

What Is Lead?

Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal that occurs in nature and is found in small amounts on the earth's crust. It is rarely found naturally in well water but was used for many years in products used in home plumbing. This can include pipes, fittings, and lead solder. As a result, small amounts of lead can make it's way into your drinking water as the water travels through your homes plumbing system. This is especially true if your water is corrosive due to low pH. Lead is commonly found in water along with copper, so if your annual water test returns positive for copper, you should also check for lead.

How Does Lead Get Into My Drinking Water?

Lead present in drinking water is directly related to your water quality. Municipal water systems are federally mandated to test and remove lead from their water supply before it is distributed. As a private well owner, it is your responsibility to test and handle treatment if lead is present. While there are instances where lead has leached into the water supply, for example near closed gas stations or industrial parks, as a general rule if there is lead present it is coming from your homes plumbing. If your water supply has low mineral content, high salt content or low pH it can react with the water present in your pipes and leach lead from brass fittings and fixtures, or solder joints due to corrosion.

What Are The Health Effects Of Lead In Drinking Water?

When lead is present in drinking water, there are negative effects for anyone who consumes it. While dangerous to adults, the effects can be especially dangerous to infants, young children, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly.

High levels of prolonged exposure can result in kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults. In children, lead exposure can result in delays in physical and mental development. Lead poisoning happens slowly over time, and the effects are cumulative making it difficult to detect even in people with high levels in their blood. Symptoms do not manifest until dangerous amounts have accumulated in the body.

Watch for irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss and abdominal pain in children. In adults watch for joint and muscle pain, declines in mental function, pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet, headache, memory loss and mood disorders.

Even low levels of lead in your drinking water can result in problems over time. In children, these issues may not be reversible. 

Should I Test My Well Water For Lead?

In a word, absolutely. As a homeowner with a private well your water quality is your responsibility. Lead testing should be a part of your annual well testing process.If you see blue-green staining signifying possible copper in your water, you should test immediately as lead is often present with copper in drinking water. If you notice any of the health symptoms listed above in either yourself or your children, you should also test immediately.

What Can I do If Lead Is Present In My Drinking Water?

First, don't panic! While lead in your drinking water can be dangerous, there are simple solutions available. In the short term, cook only with cold water making sure you flush your pipes for one minute before filling any pots or drinking any water. There are other water treatment options available which can eliminate the problem like point-of-use water treatment systems. Filter pitchers are also very effective at removing lead. 

Your best option is to speak with your well water professional. They can give you information on both the dangers of exposure and your water treatment options. Remember, your well health is your responsibility. Annual testing can ensure the health and safety of your family and provide you with peace of mind. Contact the water well experts at Skillings & Sons to schedule a water test, or learn about treatment options for lead contamination.