Lead Contamination in Drinking Water: What You Need To Know


Wendy Spicer, M.S.  |  Scientific Contributor

Where Do I Find Lead?

Lead is a common ingredient in paints, gasoline, ceramic products, caulking, and pipe solder. Most commonly, lead is used in the production of lead-acid batteries, ammunition, metal products (solder and pipes), and x-ray shielding. An estimated 1.52 million metric tons of lead were used for various industrial applications in the United States in 2004. The majority of that tonnage (83%) was used for lead-acid battery production.

While useful, lead is highly toxic. Federal, state, and local governments have worked to reduce the use of lead in many products over the past 40 years. Lead screening programs have helped to both prevent and treat exposed individuals. Despite making great progress to create awareness of the dangers of lead exposure, roughly 25% of households in the United States with children under the age of six contain significant amounts of lead-contaminated paint, dust, water, or soil.

How Are People Exposed To Lead?

Exposure to lead occurs mainly via inhalation of lead-contaminated dust particles or aerosols and ingestion of lead-contaminated food, water, and paints. Adults absorb 35-50% of lead intake through contamination in drinking water and the absorption rate for children is potentially even greater.

Factors like age and physiological status increase the likelihood of absorption. In the human body, the greatest amount of lead is in our bones. Lead is also absorbed by soft tissue organs like the kidneys, liver, heart, and brain. The nervous system is very susceptible to lead poisoning. Prolonged lead exposure can cause headaches, poor attention span, irritability, memory loss, and apathy. Lead exposure is especially harmful to infants, fetuses, and children due to the developing nature of their brains.

What Are Adverse Health Effects Of Lead Poisoning?

Unfortunately, lead poisoning remains a common pediatric health problem in the United States. Pregnant mothers exposed to lead can transfer this heavy metal to their developing fetus. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that there is no safe level of lead exposure in children.  

The effects of lead exposure in children include, but are not limited to:

  • Lower IQ
  • Delayed or impaired neurological development
  • Decreased hearing, speech and language disabilities
  • Poor attention span, learning disabilities, and anti-social behaviors

Adults exposed to lead may experience gastrointestinal diseases and/or damage to the cardiovascular system, reproductive system, brain, kidneys, and liver.

One of the mechanisms by which lead induces toxicity in the body is that it essentially mimics other metals like calcium, leading to interference with many major biochemical processes. This interference can also inhibit enzyme activity, and cause cellular damage. It can often cause problems with bones, replacing calcium. Studies have shown that lead might also induce renal tumors in rodents, and is likely carcinogenic to humans as well.

How Can I Avoid/Minimize Lead Exposure?

From Lead Paint & Contaminated Soil

  • Keep your home well-maintained. If your home has lead-based paint, check regularly for peeling paint and fix problems promptly. Avoiding sanding lead paint, which makes lead airborne. If in doubt, hire a company with experience removing lead-based paints from homes
  • Wash hands and toys which may have come into contact surfaces or soil containing lead
  • Prevent children from playing on bare soil. Provide them with a sandbox that's covered when not in use. Plant grass or cover bare soil with mulch
  • Remove shoes before entering the house. This will help keep lead-based soil outside

From Contaminated Drinking Water

Hydroviv makes it our business to make your water safe. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out about information regarding lead in water or any other topic by dropping us an email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. You can also engage with us on Twitter or Facebook!

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