Lead can get into the water supply either by the erosion of natural deposits, or by the corrosion of plumbing fixtures. Homes built before 1940 are more likely to have lead pipes, although over time these pipes will form a coating that may prevent further corrosion. Plumbing fixtures may also contain some lead, although recent regulations have reduced the content of lead in brass fixtures. The solder used to hold pipes together may also contain lead. If the water is corrosive, the pipes or solder can release lead into the water. Generally, drinking water accounts for about 20% of an adult’s intake of lead.
Elevated levels of lead can have serious health effects particularly for pregnant women, infants and children. Even short periods of exposure to lead may damage red blood cells and increase blood pressure. Long-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system. It may also cause stroke, kidney disease or even cancer. Lead is particularly toxic to children, amounts of lead that won’t hurt adults can slow down the normal mental and physical developments of growing bodies. In addition, children, especially infants, drink a higher proportion of water than do adults.
The regulation of lead in drinking water is very stringent. In 1986, the EPA under an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, banned the use of lead plumbing in public water supplies. Up until 2014, solder was considered lead-free if it contained less than 0.2% lead, and pipes if they contained less than 8% lead. The Lead Reduction Act, which took effect on January 4, 2014, changed the definition of “lead-free” from 8.0 percent to 0.25 percent. This act requires new pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to be “lead free” under this new definition. This amount of lead should not be a problem as long as the corrosivity of the water remains low.
Selected taps throughout town are monitored every three years for lead. If the amount of lead exceeds the EPA Action Level of 0.015 mg/L at more than 10% of the taps tested, then the Water District will increase its monitoring of the lead levels in our water and take further steps to reduce the amount of lead in the water. The latest sampling results can be found at www.actonwater.com/ccr.
To reduce the hydrogen ion concentration of the water, and thus its corrosivity, the Acton Water District adds potassium hydroxide to the water as needed. Additionally, the aeration of our water, primarily for VOC removal, is often times adequate at adjusting the corrosivity of the water. Generally, the concentration of lead in all samples collected by the Water District is well below the Action Level. Detections of lead above the Action Level are reported to homeowners immediately.
There are some simple steps that you can take to reduce the amount of lead in your drinking water. If the faucet has not been used for six or more hours, flush the pipes before drinking from them. Run the water faucet for about two minutes, or until the temperature stabilizes, before drinking the water. Also, use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula because hot water dissolves lead faster than does cold water. Check to make sure that pots and pans are lead free. Imported cookware may contain lead; if you are unsure, do not use it to heat water for consumption, especially for children. Boiling your water does not reduce the lead content, it will actually increase it. If you are concerned about the level of lead in your drinking water, the best way to assess the risk is by collecting a water sample and having it tested by a certified laboratory.