Residents of Flint, Michigan, are not the only ones who could have dangerously high lead levels in their municipal drinking water. A water utility does not officially have a lead problem unless at least 10% of homes tested have problems. That means thousands of households could be exposed to lead poisoning even in areas where the water is “safe.” Lead poisoning can cause behavioral and developmental issues in children, as well as high blood pressure and kidney disease in adults.
Lead is not easy for water utilities to monitor and control because it is not present when water leaves treatment facilities. It gets into water from the pipes in homes and under yards. Older homes face the greatest risks.
Prior to 1920, when local municipalities began to prohibit the use of lead pipes, they were routinely used to connect homes to the water main under the street. The EPA did not ban their use nationally until 1986. A private well installed before 1986 also may have pipes and fixtures that contain lead.
If you are uncertain whether your home is connected to the water main by a lead pipe, check the home inspector’s report conducted when you bought the property—if there’s a lead pipe, this should be noted. Or find where your water supply enters your home—if this pipe is dull gray and can be easily scratched with a sharp knife, it’s probably lead. Or have a licensed plumber check for you ($45 to $150).
What to do: Install a water filter on your kitchen faucet or below your sink. Expect to pay $200 to $400 for an under-
sink unit, plus a few hundred more to have it professionally installed. Faucet-mounted filters cost less than $100 and are easy to install but tend to slow water flow and don’t fit every faucet. If you do not have a filter, run your tap for one to two minutes in the morning before using it (lead leaches into water as it sits in the pipes), and do not drink hot water from the tap (hot water absorbs more lead).
Not all water filters remove lead, so check the packaging or the manufacturer’s website. Or use the independent-testing company NSF’s online search tool to find lead-reduction filters.