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Lead in Drinking Water: Minimize the Risk

Lead can be found in many places, whether older paints and solders, dust, soil, or even appliances. Sometimes, lead can enter drinking water due to corrosion of older, lead-containing plumbing. There have been multiple cases of homes in Boston with levels of lead higher than the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion.

Lead has many health risks, including damage to the brain, kidneys, and blood cells, which results in less oxygen being supplied to the body. These risks are especially significant for infants, young children, and pregnant women. If you suspect that your water contains lead, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission offers the following advice on reducing the risk.

Run standing water out of pipes. Lead is most likely to be present in water that has been sitting for an extended period of time, so if the water in your home hasn’t been used in a few hours, run it for 15 to 30 seconds to allow any potentially contaminated water to move through. New water will be consistently cold, which is how you can determine if enough time has passed.

Have your water tested at a state-certified laboratory. This generally will cost between $10 and $50 and will confirm or rule out the presence of lead.

Install a filter that removes lead. This will be much more cost-effective than using bottled water. (Remember, boiling the water does not remove lead.) Many filters go directly on faucets or into pitchers for drinking water and can be installed easily. Ensure that the filter in question is certified to specifically remove lead—not all filters do this.

Test for lead exposure. If you are concerned about your child, a blood lead level test can determine if your child has been exposed. This can be scheduled through your pediatrician and is usually part of regular checkups for children under age 6. Because lead has been used in paint, as well as plumbing, in the past, young children can be exposed through contact with dust and soil as well as water.

In some homes, the main water line that supplies water to the house is made of lead. A list published on Boston.com in 2005 includes all the affected addresses in Boston and Brookline, so you can check to see if your property is affected.

To reduce lead in water throughout the system, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority adds sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda or soda ash) and carbon dioxide. These additives reduce the pH of the water and make it less corrosive, thereby reducing the leaching of lead into the water. Since 1996, when this treatment began, lead levels found in water sample tests have dropped significantly.

Most homes in Boston do not have dangerous levels of lead present in their drinking water, but it is smart to understand the risks. For more information, visit www.bwsc.org, or call the Boston Water and Sewer Commission at 617-989-7888.

For further information:

·         Boston Water and Sewer Commission

·         Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

·         Environmental Protection Agency

—Sean Yarolin