You may have heard a little story over the past year about how the government in Flint, Michigan, knowingly poisoned the town’s residents via old pipes that put high amounts of lead in the town's water. Pretty horrible, right? Well, it turns out that this issue might not be limited to just one town--lead in water is way more common than you may think.
Many cities throughout the country have incredibly old lead pipes that could possibly contaminating drinking water. Why? Well, because lead was frequently used for service and plumbing lines until the mid-1900s.
In 1986, the US Environmental Protection Agency figured out that lead was quite dangerous—especially to children’s brains. That’s when lead was officially nixed from all new solder, plumbing, and service lines. But, that rule "doesn't apply to buildings constructed before 1986, and lead-free was defined as 8 percent lead until 2014, when a new policy kicked in that lowered that number to 0.25 percent,” Mother Jones reports.
Now, you may be thinking, isn’t there some type of mandatory testing that’s supposed to detect lead in water? Yes, there is!
“Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, utilities are supposed to test water for lead in high-risk homes—and if more than 10 percent of homes have higher levels than the federal standard of 15 parts per billion, utilities have to notify customers and take action,” Mother Jones reports.
But the thing is, those tests do nothing if the results are misrepresented.
“But until this February, when the EPA clarified its policy, many utilities had protocols in place that misrepresented the results... Some avoided testing older homes that likely had lead plumbing or discounted high results that skewed the average," Mother Jones explains.
"Some would tell customers to flush out the water the night beforehand, releasing lead particles before the sample was taken. Some collected water in sample bottles with narrow tops; when the sample is collected at a trickle, it is less likely to carry particulates with it. In response to the crisis in Flint, the EPA clarified its water testing protocols in February, though the guidance is not legally binding."
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family from being exposed to lead? Here are a few, no-nonsense suggestions.
1. Do it yourself
Yeah, the city should do this, but sometimes you’ve got to get your hands dirty to make sure something is done right.
Old houses in some cities still have lead lines. To find out if your house is one of those homes, go into your basement and find a bare pipe. Lightly scratch it with a coin. If the pipe’s color looks like that of a penny, your pipes aren’t lead. But if the pipe’s color looks like a nickel, it’s probably a lead pipe. If you have the cash, you can replace your own pipes. If not, just use a water filter.
2. Water filter
Water filters are cheap and easy to find. “There are a number of different kinds of filters—ones that attach to the faucet, counter, pipes under the sink, or a water pitcher,” Mother Jones reports. “Those that are certified by NSF International, a private organization that rates water filters, are a good bet.”
3. Invest in a water test
This is a fine idea—a first step—but it’s not totally reliable. Why? Because “lead particle release is sporadic, so even testing multiple times doesn't necessarily prove you're in the clear,” Mother Jones reports.
But it’s still not a bad idea to go forward with a test. You can request one from local utilities or a health department. There’s also a well-known third-party tester called Healthy Babies Bright Futures that will send you a mail-in lead test for a fee.
4. Check the faucet
Did you know that most brass could contain about 8 percent lead until 2014? Yeah, that was allowed thanks to the catch we mentioned above... But luckily, replacing a faucet is a cheap fix.
5. Flush water
Although Mother Jone’s gets how important water conservation is, flushing pipes can help get rid of contaminants, including lead in water. “Running the water for about a minute in the morning before drinking it to avoid potential contaminants that have built up overnight. This won't solve the problem altogether—particularly if you have lead pipes—but it can help.”
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