Advanced Water
LEAD

Small quantities of lead can be a serious health concern, especially for children. Sources of lead in the
environment include lead-based paint; lead contaminated soil, air and dust; lead contaminated food;
imported food in lead-soldered cans; non-FDA regulated ceramics with lead glazes; leaded crystal and
lead contaminated drinking water.

Lead rarely occurs naturally in water. Most lead contamination takes place at some point in the water
delivery system. This occurs as a result of corrosion, the reaction between the water and lead in parts of
the water delivery system. Materials in the water delivery system which may contain lead include service
connections, pipes, solder and brass fixtures.

Water's characteristics vary: some water is naturally more corrosive than others. Several factors cause
water to be corrosive including acidity (low pH), high temperature, low total dissolved solids (TDS)
content and high amounts of dissolved oxygen or carbon dioxide. Generally, naturally soft water is more
corrosive than hard water, because it is more acidic and has low TDS.  Softening naturally hard water
with an ion exchange water softening unit does not appreciably change the corrosivity of the water,
resulting in little, if any, effect on the water's ability to dissolve lead.

Through the early 1900's it was common in some areas of the country to use lead pipes for interior
plumbing. Lead piping was also used for the service connections used to join residences to public water
supplies. Lead piping is most likely to be found in homes built before 1930. Copper piping replaced lead
piping, but lead-based solder was used to join copper piping. It is likely lead-based solder was used in
any home built before 1988.

Today, brass materials are used in nearly 100 percent of all residential, commercial, and municipal
water distribution systems. Many household faucets, plumbing fittings, check valves and well pumps are
manufactured with brass parts. While brass contains some lead to make casting easier and the
machining process more efficient, the lead content of brass plumbing components is now restricted to 8
percent. Even at this low level, however, lead can be leached from new brass faucets and fittings.
Eventually, if the water is not corrosive, hard water minerals deposit on the interior of plumbing. These
deposits form a calcium carbonate lining inside pipes and fittings which protects against lead
contamination. It may take up to five years for an effective calcium carbonate lining to form. Softening
naturally hard water with an ion exchange water softening unit can either prevent or dissolve the calcium
carbonate scale, eliminating its possible protective effect.

Some private wells may have submersible pumps containing brass or bronze capable of leaching lead.
Some well screens also may contain lead or were installed with a "lead packing collar".  Potential lead
contamination also exists if the well is a driven, sandpoint well and has been "shot" to clear the screen.
Lead shot was sometimes poured into a well to keep out sand. In other wells, lead wool was used. None
of these practices are recommended today.  

Older water coolers with lead-lined tanks are another possible source of lead in drinking water. The
Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 required the repair or recall of lead-lined tanks and prohibited
manufacturing and sale of such coolers. As with any repair or recall notice, it is possible that less than
100 percent compliance was achieved and coolers with lead-lined tanks could remain in use.

Indications of Lead
Lead does not noticeably alter the taste, color or smell of water. The effects of low levels of lead toxicity
in humans may not be obvious. There may be no symptoms present or symptoms may be mistaken as
flu or other illnesses.

Potential Health Effects
As far as we know, lead has no benefits to humans or animals. Lead is a cumulative poison, meaning it
accumulates in the body until it reaches toxic levels. It can be absorbed through the digestive tract, the
lungs and the skin and is carried by the blood throughout the body. The severity of the effects of lead
poisoning varies depending on the concentration of lead in the body. This concentration can be
determined with a blood test.

Although lead has long been recognized as poisonous at high dosages, recent studies have shown it is
damaging at lower levels than previously believed. As a result, lead exposure levels considered
acceptable have been lowered. While some effects of lead poisoning may diminish if exposure is
reduced, others are irreversible.

Excess lead in the human body can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and
red blood cells. Young children, infants and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. An
amount of lead which would have little effect on an adult can greatly effect a child. Also, growing children
more rapidly absorb any lead consumed. A child's mental and physical development can be irreversibly
stunted by lead.

Lead in drinking water is not the predominant source of lead poisoning, but it can increase total lead
exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and juices which are mixed with
water. On average, about 10 to 20 percent of a child's total lead exposure might come from drinking
water. Infants who are fed formula could get 40 to 60 percent of their lead intake from water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all children be tested for lead with a blood
test. Parents or guardians should consult with their physician.

Testing
To determine if lead is present in drinking water and to determine the possible source of the
contamination, water must be tested using specific sampling procedures. Tests to determine the
presence of lead in drinking water should be done by a laboratory certified specifically for lead testing.
Carefully follow all directions provided by the laboratory and use provided containers when collecting
water samples. Home test kits available on the market may not provide accurate results.

To evaluate the household's highest level of lead exposure, collect a sample after water has sat
motionless in the plumbing system for six or more hours. When collecting the sample, collect the first
water from the faucet. Do not allow any water to run before collecting the sample. This is called a
first-draw or first-flush sample. Because lead will continually dissolve into the water, the lead
concentration will increase with time. This is why water drawn after any extended period of nonuse will
contain the highest lead levels.

Collect a second sample after the tap has run for at least five minutes. This is called a purged-line or
flushed sample, which will indicate the lead concentration in water that has not been in contact with the
plumbing system for an extended period of time. If the first-draw sample contains a higher amount of
lead than the purged-line sample, the water is leaching lead from the plumbing system. If both samples
contain nearly equal amounts of lead, the water is being contaminated by a source other than the
household plumbing system.

Although private water supplies are not subject to any regulations concerning lead contamination, users
of private water supplies may want to test their water supply. This is especially true if a problem is
suspected or if children use the water.

Water supplied by Public Water Systems is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) and state agencies.  Public water systems must complete a distribution system materials
evaluation and/or review other information to target homes at high risk of lead contamination.  At-risk
homes are then monitored at the tap, with the number of tap-sampling sites based on the population
served.

Additional monitoring for other water-quality parameters affecting corrosion is required to both optimize
any required treatment and determine compliance with lead standards.

All large systems (serving more than 50,000 persons), as well as small and medium-size water systems
(serving less than 50,000 persons) exceeding the EPA's lead action level, are required to complete
additional monitoring. The lead action level is discussed below in the "Interpreting Test Results" section.

A public water system exceeding the EPA action level in more than 10 percent of sampled homes is
required to take action to reduce lead levels. The system must initiate corrosion control treatment,
source water treatment and public education. If a system continues to exceed the lead action level
following these three steps, lead service lines must be replaced over a 15 year period.

Interpreting Test Results
Interpreting water test results for lead involves considering both the magnitude of the lead concentration
in the samples and comparing the first-draw and flushed samples. As discussed earlier, if results show
higher levels of lead in the first-draw sample than the flushed sample, the lead is likely coming from
components of the household plumbing (lead piping, lead-based solder or brass fixtures and fittings).
On the other hand, if test results show nearly equal amounts of lead in both the first-draw and flushed
samples, the lead is probably coming from a source outside the house.

EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLG) are desirable, non-enforceable, health-based goals
established to assure a completely safe water supply. Water containing any chemical in an amount
equal to or below its MCLG is not expected to cause any health problems, even over a lifetime of
drinking this water. The MCLG for lead in drinking water is zero.

EPA has established an enforceable lead concentration action level for public water supplies. The lead
action level is 15 micrograms per liter (mg/l) = parts per billion (ppb) which is equivalent to 0.015
milligrams per liter (mg/l) = parts per million (ppm). When the lead concentration exceeds 15 ppb, the
water supplier must initiate the actions described in the previous section. The 15 ppb concentration
should also be used as an action level for private water supplies.

Options
If water tests indicate lead is present in drinking water and testing determines the source is household
plumbing, first try to identify and eliminate the lead source. If it is neither possible nor cost-effective to
eliminate the lead source, flushing the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking may
be an option. Flushing the system means anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for
several hours, water should be run until it becomes as cold as it will get. This could take as little as two
minutes or longer than five minutes depending on your system. Flush each faucet individually before
using the water for drinking or cooking.

Water run from the tap during the flushing can be used for non-consumption purposes such as watering
plants, washing dishes or clothes or cleaning. Flushing may be ineffective in high-rise buildings with
large-diameter supply pipes joined with lead-based solder.

Avoid cooking with or consuming water from hot-water taps. Hot water dissolves lead more readily than
cold water. Especially avoid using water from a hot water tap for making baby formula.

If water tests indicate the presence of lead, and the source was determined to be beyond the household
plumbing, again the first course of action is to identify and eliminate the source if possible. If served by a
public water system, contact the water supplier and ask what steps can be taken to deal with the lead
contamination. If the source of water is a private well, check both the well and the pump for potential
lead sources. A licensed water well contractor may be able to help you determine if any of the well
components are a source of lead.

In addition to identifying potential lead sources, consider the corrosivity factor. One practice which may
increase corrosion is the grounding of electrical equipment (including telephones) to water pipes.
Electric current traveling through the ground wire accelerates the corrosion of lead in the pipes. In this
case, a qualified electrician should be consulted.

If at all possible and if cost-effective, eliminate the source of lead in drinking water. If that is not possible,
consider water treatment or an alternative drinking water source (such as bottled water).

There are several treatment methods suitable for removing lead from drinking water, including reverse
osmosis, distillation and carbon filters specially designed to remove lead. Typically these methods are
used to treat water at only one faucet.

Reverse osmosis units can remove approximately 85 percent of the lead from water. Distillation can
remove approximately 99 percent. A water softener can be used with either a reverse osmosis or
distillation unit when water is excessively hard. Low flow rates are required when using lead selective
carbon filters. Typically they have flow controllers which limit the system to 0.25 to 0.5 gallons per minute.

Summary
Lead rarely occurs naturally in drinking water. It is more common for lead contamination to occur at
some point in the water delivery system. Too much lead in the human body can cause serious damage
to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Young children, infants and fetuses are
especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. To determine the presence of lead in drinking water and its
possible source, a specific procedure must be used to collect samples and a certified laboratory used
for testing. If test results indicate the presence of lead and the source is identified, appropriate steps
should be taken. Options include removing the lead source and managing the water supply use for
drinking and cooking by flushing water with high lead concentrations from the water system, using water
treatment equipment or using an alternative water source. Options selected must be based on the
specific situation.
Advanced Water Products & Services
7280 Caswell Street
North Syracuse, NY 13212
(315) 451-2233 phone
(315) 458-0526 FAX
For more information click here

Copyright © 2005-2006 Environmental Technical Group, Inc.
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LEAD & COPPER IN  DRINKING WATER
COPPER

Too much copper in the human body can cause stomach and intestinal distress such as nausea,
vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. This NebGuide discusses how to determine if copper is in a
domestic water supply and options that can be taken to reduce the copper in water.

Copper in Drinking Water
Copper rarely occurs naturally in water. Most copper contamination in drinking water happens in the
water delivery system, as a result of corrosion of the copper pipes or fittings. Copper piping and fittings
are widely used in household plumbing.

Because the physical and chemical characteristics of water vary, the corrosive properties of water vary
as well. Factors causing corrosion include acidity (low pH), high temperature, low total dissolved solids
(TDS) content and high amounts of dissolved oxygen or carbon dioxide. Generally, naturally soft water
is more corrosive than hard water because it is more acidic and has low TDS. Observations have shown
increased copper levels in water softened with ion exchange water softeners.

If the water is not corrosive, hard water minerals are slowly deposited on the interior of plumbing. These
hard water deposits form a calcium carbonate lining inside pipes and fittings which protects against
copper contamination, however, it may take up to five years for an effective calcium carbonate lining to
form and softening hard water with an ion exchange unit can either prevent or dissolve the calcium
carbonate scale, reducing or eliminating its protective effect.

Indications of Copper
At very high levels, copper can cause a bitter metallic taste in water and result in blue-green stains on
plumbing fixtures. At low levels, copper in drinking water may cause no health symptoms. At high levels,
copper in drinking water may cause symptoms easily mistaken as flu or other illnesses. Thus health
symptoms are not a reliable indication of copper in drinking water.

Potential Health Effects
Although copper is an essential micronutrient and is required by the body in very small amounts, excess
copper in the human body can cause stomach and intestinal distress such as nausea, vomiting,
diarrhea and stomach cramps. The lowest level at which these adverse effects occur has not been well
defined. People with Wilson's disease, a rare genetic disorder, are more sensitive to the effects of
copper. For additional information on the potential health effects of copper in the human body, consult
your physician.

Testing
To determine if copper is present in drinking water, specific sampling procedures must be used. Analysis
should be done by a laboratory certified to test for copper. Carefully follow all directions and use
containers provided by the laboratory when collecting water samples for testing.

To evaluate the household's highest level of copper exposure, collect a sample after water has been
motionless in the plumbing system for at least six hours. When collecting the sample, collect the first
water from the faucet. Do not allow any water to run before collecting the sample. This is called a
first-draw or first-flush sample. Since the corrosive process is continuous, water drawn after an extended
period of nonuse will contain the highest copper levels.

After the tap has run for at least five minutes, collect a second sample. This is called a purged-line or
flushed sample. This provides a sample that has not been in contact with the plumbing system for an
extended period of time.

Although private water supplies are not subject to any regulations concerning copper contamination,
users of private water supplies may want to have their water tested.

Water supplied by Public Water Systems is regulated under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various states' agencies.  The current enforceable
copper concentration action level for public water supplies is 1.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L), equivalent to
1.3 parts per million (ppm). The copper action level is discussed below in the "Interpreting Test Results"
section.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires public water systems to complete a distribution system materials
evaluation and/or review other information to target homes at high risk of copper contamination. Water
samples are taken at the tap in at-risk homes, with the number of tap-sampling sites based on the
population served.

A public water system exceeding the EPA action level in more than 10 percent of sampled homes must
notify customers via newspapers, radio, television or other means. These systems must be monitored
every six months. Systems serving more than 500 people continuing to exceed the action level must
initiate corrosion control treatment. Systems serving less than 500 people continuing to exceed the
action level must either initiate corrosion control treatment, install a point-of-use or point-of-entry
treatment system in each home or provide bottled water for every home.

Those small- and medium-sized water systems (serving less than 50,000 persons) exceeding the EPA's
copper action level, as well as all large systems (serving more than 50,000), are required to monitor
other water parameters affecting corrosion. These parameters are used to identify optimal treatment, if
needed.

Interpreting Test Results
Both the magnitude of the copper concentration and the comparison between the first-draw and flushed
samples must be considered when interpreting test results. If results show higher levels of copper in the
first-draw sample than the flushed sample, the copper is most likely coming from components of the
household plumbing, such as copper pipes or fittings. On the other hand, if test results show nearly
equal amounts of copper in both the first-draw and flushed samples, the copper is probably coming from
a source outside the house.

EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLG) are desirable, non-enforceable, health-based goals
established to assure a safe water supply. Water containing any chemical in an amount equal to or
below its MCLG is not expected to cause any health problems, even over a lifetime of ingestion. The
current MCLG for copper in drinking water is 1.3 mg/L.

EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems
can reasonably be required to control copper should it occur in their customers' drinking water. Thus
EPA set the 1.3 mg/L as an enforceable action level for copper. When the copper concentration
exceeds 1.3 mg/L, the water supplier must initiate the actions described above. The 1.3 mg/L
concentration can also be used as an action level for private water supplies.

Options
The following options apply to individual households and do not address actions a public water supply
system may need to take.

If water tests indicate copper is present in drinking water, the first course of action is to try to identify the
source. If possible and cost-effective, eliminate the source. If the source is the water system piping, this
is generally not practical.

If the source of copper is the in-home plumbing system, flushing the water system before using the water
for drinking or cooking is a practical option. Flushing the system means anytime the water from a
particular faucet has not been used for several hours (approximately six or more), it should be run until it
becomes as cold as it will get. Flush each faucet individually before using the water for drinking or
cooking. Water run from the tap during the flushing can be used for non-consumption purposes such as
watering plants, washing dishes or clothing or cleaning. Avoid cooking with or consuming water from hot
water taps as hot water dissolves copper more readily than cold.

If flushing the water system does not reduce copper levels to an acceptable level or is not an alternative
of choice, consider an alternative drinking water source such as bottled water or water treatment. If the
water is corrosive because of low pH (acidic), a neutralizing filter can be used to raise the pH of the
water. This will reduce or eliminate corrosion problems.

One practice which may increase corrosion is the grounding electrical equipment (including telephones)
to water pipes. Electric current traveling through the ground wire may accelerate corrosion. In this case,
consult a qualified electrician.

Reverse osmosis and distillation treatment can be used to remove copper from drinking water. Typically,
copper removal by reverse osmosis or distillation is used to treat water at one faucet.

Summary
Coper rarely occurs naturally in drinking water, but can occur as a result of corrosion in the water
system. Too much copper in the human body can cause stomach and intestinal distress such as
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. To determine the presence of copper in drinking
water, as well as its possible source, a specific procedure to collect samples must be used and a
certified laboratory must complete the testing. If test results indicate the presence and source of copper,
appropriate steps should be taken. Options include removing the copper source, managing the water
used for drinking and cooking by flushing water with high copper concentrations from the system, using
water treatment equipment or using an alternative water source. Options selected must be based on the
specific situation.
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