I'll be moving to an older home in a couple of weeks and have had to consider the presence of lead in the home. While by far the biggest concern is leaded paint, lead in water is also an issue to be aware of, especially if you are pregnant or have young children in the home.
Why is there lead in water at all?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead gets into water after it leaves the treatment plant. In other words, it comes from the pipes the water flows through.
"That is, the source of lead in your home's water is most likely pipe or solder in your home's own plumbing. The most common cause is corrosion, a reaction between the water and the lead pipes or solder. Dissolved oxygen, low pH (acidity) and low mineral content in water are common causes of corrosion."
Lead is a problem because it can lead to a variety of health issues, ranging from minor to very serious. Unfortunately, lead cannot be detected by appearances or smell. The only way to know the lead content of your water is by testing. Lead levels in water are highest in homes that are old and those that are new (built within the last five years).
What you can do
1. To have your water tested — if your house is of concern, contact your local water utility or your local health department for information and assistance. They will direct you to test your water for lead.
2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives the following instructions on how to flush your pipes to reduce lead content.
a. Before using any tap water for drinking or cooking, run high-volume taps (such as your shower) on COLD for 5 minutes or more;
b. Then, run the kitchen tap on COLD for 1–2 additional minutes;
c. Fill a clean container(s) with water from this tap. This water will be suitable for drinking, cooking, preparation of baby formula, or other consumption. To conserve water, collect multiple containers of water at once (after you have fully flushed the water from the tap as described).
3. Only drink cold water, and only use cold water in food preparation. Hot water contains a much higher lead content.
5. You should also inspect the aerator on the end of your faucet and remove any debris, including metal particles.
6. Finally, if you are a house owner and you find that you have lead pipes that are contaminating your water, consider having the pipes redone.