Recent news of the Flint water crisis has brought to light many issues with our water works programs throughout the US. That combined with the fact that many American cities have outdated plumbing means that our drinking water may contain elements that can be harmful for human health.
Lead in water is currently the main concern because it is known to cause brain damage and other serious adverse health effects. Lead is especially dangerous for young children and the developing baby in pregnant mothers. Most notably, lead exposure in young children can cause learning and attention deficits, increased risk of ADHD, anemia, and in extreme cases, even death. For more info see the EPA’s guidelines for lead contamination of drinking water.
People who are most at risk for exposure to lead from water are those who live in homes built before 1986. Drinking from public fountains that were placed before 1986 or that are not properly maintained could also potentially be a source of lead and other water contaminants.
What many people do not realize is that even if a water source is pure and clean, lead and other heavy metals can leach out of pipes, plumbing fixtures, and solder if the water does not contain anti-corrosive chemicals. For more on this, the CDC has a helpful fact sheet.
The situation in Flint is extreme and very sad, but it has led to more awareness of the matter and now lead in water has been discovered in many other cities across the US, including our very own city of Portland. To read about the widespread nature of lead contamination of water, USA Today had a great article.
Portland is known to have a pristine water source, the Bull Run Watershed, and residents have fought hard to keep the water free of as many additives as possible, such as fluoride.
Well, it turns out that our ultra soft water is highly reactive with metal pipes and fixtures that are commonly found in older buildings, homes and even our schools. As a result, we are experiencing our own water crisis of sorts, that seems to be isolated to a subset of homes and public buildings, likely due to outdated plumbing .
We live in an older home that was built in the early 1900’s. When we moved in, I had the water tested for lead immediately. The home’s plumbing had been recently updated so that was reassuring, but it’s impossible to see every pipe and fitting as well as those feeding into your house. We utilized the free water test offered through Multnomah County and it came back negative. It was a big relief!
That was several years ago. Since then our city has experienced issues with e coli contamination of the water and as a result, they have increased the chlorine in the water. It was enough to cause a noticeable change in the taste and the smell so we have been using water filters for our drinking water. Interestingly, when not counteracted, the increased chlorine makes water even more corrosive to pipes putting you more at risk for lead contamination. It’s important to know that water filters can reduce chlorine and other heavy metals, but they can vary in their efficacy and lifespan so it’s important to check the specifications. The particular filters that we have been using do NOT filter out lead very well, unfortunately.
The best thing that you can do for your family and for piece of mind is to have your water tested and to use filters as much as possible. I was fortunate to be able to try a home water testing kit by Test Assured.
It was very easy to perform (in fact, I let my assistant Penny help me with one of the tests) and I was able to get an immediate answer. This particular testing kit also measured lead, the presence of bacteria, pesticide, iron, copper, nirtrates & nirtrites, chlorine Level, pH level, alkalinity and hardness. All of our measured valued matched what has been published by our water bureau from their own water analysis, which was reassuring. In addition, our water was still lead free! The pesticide test was a bit more ambiguous in the reading and it is unclear which pesticides it measures, but hopefully out water filters minimize any potential exposure there.
If you are interested in having your water tested for lead, I would first check with your water bureau to see if they offer a free lead test. If you live in the Portland Metro area, here is the link to request a free test. Another great resource for lead testing, advice, and support can be found at http://leadsafeamerica.org.
I will also be giving away a 10 in 1 at home testing kit which detects lead and other contaminants that was donated by TestAssured. Visit our Facebook page to enter to win!
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