The Dangers of Lead in Drinking Water – and What You Can Do About It

Jan 27 , 2023

The Dangers of Lead in Drinking Water – and What You Can Do About It

Since the Flint Water Crisis began nearly a decade ago in 2014, the topic of lead in water hasn’t strayed far from the headlines. Although the crisis may seem far away in time and memory, the lead contamination of drinking water isn’t just an abstract problem – it’s very real. In fact, it’s been recently found in clothing, chocolate and even baby food.

To be sure, lead is a serious threat, and those negative effects are expedited when ingested through water contamination. As water experts, we want to help you better understand the issue and the risks to you. We’re going to look closer at this all-too-common contaminant, what it does, and how you can protect your home and family.

What Is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element that can be found in the earth’s crust. Because it is a soft and malleable metal with a low melting point, our ancestors began using it as early as 6,000 years ago to create jewelry, utensils and early plumbing. The Romans famously used lead in their coins, cookware and pretty much anything they could think of. They also lined their aqueducts with it, leading to the popular myth that lead poisoning led to the fall of Rome. (Spoilers: It’s more complicated than that.) But even the Romans observed the dangers of lead, noticing that people became ill when in regular contact with it.

In the modern era, lead was used in printing, plumbing connections, paint, canning and cosmetics as early as the 16th century and through the 19th. This persisted until the mid-20th century, when public awareness of lead’s dangers increased, and major bans were enacted in the United States in the 1970s that prohibited the use of lead in paint, gasoline and other common applications.

How Does Lead Get into Water?

Because of lead’s softness, it remained in circulation after it was banned from most household applications. Even as people moved away from using lead pipes, it was still commonly used in the United States as a component in soldering joints until its 1986 ban. As pipes age and degrade over time, the lead soldering becomes exposed to the water, where it can leach into the water supply. The amount of leaching depends upon the alkalinity and temperature of the water – more acidic, warmer water can increase lead levels than colder, more alkaline water. Lead can also enter the water cycle when dust and other contaminated compounds from industrial sites wash into water sources.

What Can Lead-Poisoned Water Do to People?

Lead is a neurotoxin that can gravely harm adults and children when exposed. In adults, lead poisoning can affect nearly every major system in the body. Commonly, it can cause severe gastrointestinal issues, headaches and tremors, and harm several organ functions including the kidneys and reproductive systems. High levels of lead exposure can lead to hallucinations, coma and even death. If you’re pregnant, lead exposure can cause low birth weight and serious birth defects in the baby, as well as increase the likelihood of miscarriage.

Children are the most likely to be seriously hurt and disabled by lead. Because the substance attacks their developing nervous system, children can experience learning and behavioral disabilities and low IQ, as well as stunted growth, anemia and damaged hearing. Although these conditions can be treated, the effects of lead poisoning are lifelong and irreversible in children and adults.

How Can it Be Stopped?

If the effects of lead poisoning sound dire, you’re not off base: Its dangers cannot be overstated. According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe level of exposure. The best way to treat lead poisoning is to prevent it from happening. Luckily, there are several ways to minimize your and your family’s exposure to lead and keep it from getting into your water.

Test your water.

Levels of lead in water vary due to many factors, like municipal filtration procedures, proximity to industrial sites, and the age of your and your city’s plumbing. Before you stress, test your water for lead levels, either by contacting your local health department or buying a water testing kit from a major carrier like Amazon.

Use cold water.

Because of lead’s softness and low melting point, hot water can cause it to corrode and enter water more easily. Using cold water and letting the tap run for a minute or two before cooking should reduce your chances of exposure.

Encourage your children to use filtered or bottled water at school.

Several school districts, like that of Philadelphia, have found lead in significant levels due to old plumbing with lead parts. Sending your kids to school with bottled water will give them extra protection.

Buy a water filtration system.

If you want comprehensive protection from lead, your best bet is to buy a water filtration system, preferably a whole-home system. It’s your first and best line of defense, purifying the water that you use to cook, bathe and drink. It’s also cheaper than completely retrofitting your home’s plumbing and is faster to implement, too. King Water Filtration’s systems are all equipped to neutralize lead and other heavy metals in order to provide customers with the safest and cleanest filtered water.

If you have any questions about our filtration systems or want to set up a consultation, you can contact us here on our website or call 1-855-957-2166.