Water Quality Information | Written By Actual Experts — heavy metals
Lead: What You Need To Know About This Toxic Heavy Metal With A Long History
**Updated 10/17/18 to include video**
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, 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 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
- Never use hot tap water for drinking, cooking or making baby formula.
- If your home has lead-containing plumbing or fixtures, and you don’t use a water filter rated to remove lead, you should allow your faucet to run for at least a minute before using water for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby formula.
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 (email@example.com) or through our live chat. You can also engage with us on Twitter or Facebook!
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Radium In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
Since The Environmental Working Group recently released a report about the prevalance of radium in US water supplies, our email and support line have been filled with questions about the toxic, radioactive heavy metal. The purpose of this article is to address a lot of these FAQs, and to discuss how to remove radium from drinking water. We'll be updating the article as more questions come into our Water Nerds!
What Is Radium & Where Does It Come From?
Radium is the product of the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium decay in rocks and soils. It's naturally occurring, and Radium levels tend to be higher in groundwater (wells, aquifers) than surface water (rivers).
Are The Recent News Articles The Result Of A Recent Spike In Radium Concentrations?
No. The reports examined radium concentrations that were logged in publicly-available databases the same databases that Hydroviv has been been using for years when we optimize water filters for our customers.
Should I Be Treating My Drinking Water Like Radioactive Waste?
Absolutely not. The concentrations of radium in drinking water are nowehere near the levels found in radioactive waste. There is absolutely no need to avoid being near your tap water.
What Can I Do To Remove Radium From My Drinking Water?
Unlike lead, which leaches into water from pipes, radium comes from the source water itself, so flushing your pipes does not reduce radium concentrations in water. Boiling water also does not reduce or removing radium from drinking water.
There are two ways that people can remove radium from their drinking water:
1. Ion exchange media. Cationic ion exchange media do a nice job selectively removing radium and uranium from drinking water, without removing minerals like calcium or magnesium. This is the approach we take in our water filters.
2. Reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is also a viable way to remove chromium 6 from water for people who are willing to accept the drawbacks, including low flow rate and complexity of installation.
If you have any questions about filtering or removing radium from your drinking water, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support, where we will help you select an effective water filter system, even if it’s not one that we sell. This free service can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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How Mining Activities From Long Ago Continue To Pollute Water Today
Daphne Abrams M.S.Ed. | Scientific Contributor
I became interested in the impact of mining a few years ago when I started teaching an environmental science class in northwestern Nevada. Nevada has a rich history of pioneers and mining (It is the silver state after all). While mining can be a source of revenue and prosperity for an area, it also has a huge environmental impact that can last many decades after the mining activity ends. This article discusses how this has played out in the Carson River.
Historical Mining Activities And EPA Superfund Sites
EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up highly contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters in order to minimize long-lasting contamination from these events. Even though the government has categorized these sites as highly toxic, they are sorely underfunded when it comes to cleanup and often forgotten about altogether. This is particularly problematic because one in six Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site. The closest two Superfund sites to the school that I teach at are two abandoned mining sites. One is the Carson River Mercury Site, which is the legacy of silver and gold mining in the area, and the other is from the abandoned Rio Tinto Copper Mine.
Lasting Impacts Of Historical Mining Activity On The Carson River
Between the contamination from these two Superfund sites, roughly eighty miles of the Carson River is paralyzed by heavy metal toxicity. Even though contamination likely occurred in the 1800s, there are still advisories not eat fish caught in that stretch of the Carson River, due to concerns about mercury, which biomagnifies up food the food chain.
What's Being Done About Contamination From Historical Mining Activities?
While it seems hard to debate against cleaning up these types of historical toxic messes, the Senate and House voted to overturn the “Stream Protection Rule” shortly after President Trump took office, as part of the new administration's campaign promise to relax environmental regulations.
Do You Have More Questions About How Does Mining Affect Water Today?
Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. 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 by dropping us an email (email@example.com) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!Recommended Articles For You
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Arsenic In Drinking Water: Exposure, Toxicity, Removal By Water Filters
We do everything from providing in-depth breakdowns of common contaminants to reports on city tap water quality. We’re keeping it going by writing about another common heavy metal that can contaminate drinking water: Arsenic.
How Are We Exposed To Arsenic?
Humans are exposed to inorganic arsenic mainly through contaminated drinking water. Some water sources in the United States have higher naturally occurring levels of inorganic arsenic than other regions. Levels of inorganic arsenic in soil typically range from 1-40mg/kg and the EPA recommended concentration in water supplies is less than 10µg/L. However, higher levels can occur near natural mineral deposits, mining sites, smelting industries, and regions where pesticides have been applied.
In addition, workers who use arsenic compounds for smelting, pesticide manufacturing and application, and wood preservation are at a higher risk for arsenic poisoning.
Below is a map published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which shows the concentration of arsenic in groundwater in the United States. If you live in one of the areas with high arsenic concentration, and get your drinking water from a private well, we highly recommend getting your water tested by a qualified laboratory.
Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal several epidemiological studies have reported a strong association between arsenic exposure, cancer, and systemic diseases. In fact, arsenic exposure affects virtually all organ systems including the cardiovascular, dermatologic, nervous, hepatic, renal, gastrointestinal, and respiratory systems. The severity of the adverse health effects is related to both the chemical form of arsenic and the dosage. Evidence of carcinogenicity due to arsenic exposure is very strong, but the specific mechanism by which it causes cancer is not completely understood.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Exposure To Arsenic?
A growing number of people are realizing that regulatory limits are not always in line with current toxicological studies, and are taking steps to minimize expsoure to heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium 6 from their drinking water, even if their city is "in compliance" with EPA regulations.
Unlike lead, which leaches into water from pipes, arsenic comes from the source water itself, so flushing pipes or replacing plumbing will not reduce arsenic concentrations. Boiling water also does NOT remove arsenic. Arsenic must be removed using a water filter that is specifically designed to do so.
Whole House Filters
Some whole house filters can be configured to remove arsenic to some degree. We do not typically recommend these systems becasue they are very expensive, and there's no need to filter the water that is used for most household applications (e.g. flush toilet). We strongly believe that point of use water filters are the appropriate tool for the job.
Point Of Use Water Filters For Arsenic
The most cost-effective method of arsenic, chromium 6, and contaminants filtration is through a point of use water filter. When shopping for these systems, we encourage you to make sure that the filter actually filters arsenic (most don't). While we believe that our advanced under sink filters have unique benefits and use filtration media that effectively remove both types of inorganic arsenic, some systems that use reverse osmosis can be a good choice for people who are willing to accept the downsides. No matter what... make sure that your filter removes what you think it does!
As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! While we do make water filters that remove arsenic, our water nerds are happy to answer your questions about the effects of arsenic in water, even if you have no intention of purchasing a Hydroviv Water Filter. Reach out by dropping us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through the live chat on our webpage.
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Chromium 6 In Drinking Water: Background, Exposure, Toxicology
Wendy Spicer, M.S. | Scientific Contributor
If you have seen the film Erin Brockovich, you are familiar with chromium 6 (Also known as hexavalent chromium and chromium(VI)) water contamination. The movie tells the story of a legal clerk turned activist who uncovers that a California utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), was knowingly dumping chromium 6 waste and contaminating the local water supply. Brockovich’s law firm, Masry and Vititoe, represented over 600 clients in a lawsuit against PG&E which settled for 333 million dollars in 1993. Despite the success and fame of this story, chromium 6 water contamination remains largely unregulated and problematic across the United States. A survey from 2013-2015 performed by the non-profit Environmental Working Group estimated that the water supplies serving over 218 million Americans is contaminated with chromium 6 levels that exceed the amount deemed safe.
What Is Chromium?
Chromium (Cr) is a naturally occurring element with many industrial applications, namely the production of alloys such stainless steel as well as leather tanning processes. Chromium compounds are also used as industrial catalysts and pigments, creating bright green, yellow, red and orange colors. Chromium plating, which adds a shiny polished mirror finish to steel or plastic, is commonly seen on household appliances and vehicles.
Chromium can be found in several oxidation states, meaning that they differ in the number of electrons surrounding the atom’s nucleus. Chromium 6 is the highly-toxic form of chromium. Industrial discharge is the largest source of chromium 6 in our environment and is released into air and wastewater by metal processing facilities, tannery facilities, chromate production, stainless steel welding, ferrochrome production, and pigment production. The major way that most people are exposed to chromium 6 is through contaminated food and water.
What Are The Adverse Health Effects Of Chromium in Water?
Not all forms of chromium are highly toxic to humans. For example, chromium(III) (also known as trivalent chromium) is an essential nutrient that plays a role in glucose, fat and protein metabolism by potentiating the action of insulin. It is also important to note that different chemical forms of the same metal, as well as particle size and form of ingestion, will all contribute to differences in the carcinogenic potential of each chromium containing compound.
There is strong evidence that chromium 6 is a human carcinogen (i.e. it causes cancer). In addition to many types of cancer, chromium 6 exposure is known to cause multiorgan toxicity such as renal damage, allergy and asthma. Breathing high levels of chromium 6 can cause irritation to the lining of the nose, and nose ulcers. Lung and respiratory cancers are more common in industrial workers (where it is more likely to be inhaled) while gastrointestinal tumors are more common in humans and animals exposed to chromium 6 in drinking water. Accidental or intentional ingestion of extremely high doses of chromium 6 compounds can cause acute respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hematological, hepatic, renal, and neurological distress which may result in death.
As always, feel free to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support. We will answer your questions about water quality even if you have no desire to purchase one of our products.Other Articles We Think You’ll Enjoy
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4 Things To Know Before Testing Your Home’s Water For Lead
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
Since the lead crisis in Flint put lead contamination in the national spotlight, our Tech Support Team is frequently asked questions about testing a home’s water for lead. Many who reach out to us do so after having been duped by "testing companies" looking to make a quick buck. This article discusses how to test your home's water for lead accurately & cost-effectively.
Check For Free City Programs
Some large cities (like Washington DC, NYC, Chicago) have programs in place where residents can submit samples to the city for free lead testing. We strongly encourage people to take advantage of this free service if it's available to them.
Ignore Marketing Gimmicks And Find An Accredited Laboratory For Lead Testing
Most of the consumer “test kits” you find at hardware stores or large online retailers are almost always for low cost “screening” tests that are notorious for false alarms and inconclusive results, which allows the lab to upsell you on a more sensitive and accurate test. Don't be fooled by marketing claims that a kit is "EPA Recognized" or "Tests to EPA Standards"... they don't mean anything. With lead, you should simply find an accredited water quality lab in your area, and request their test kit. We recommend finding a lab that uses EPA Method 200.8, which is an Inductively Coupled Plasma, Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) based method that gives accurate results at low concentrations.
Sample Properly From The Faucet
Because lead contamination occurs when water sits in lead-containing plumbing pipes, solder, and connections, it’s important that you sample from the faucet and collect at a time when your home’s water has not been used for at least 6 hours (like first thing in the morning)
We recommend collecting 3 samples: one as soon as you turn on the faucet (also known as a "first draw"), and separate samples after the water has been running for 30 seconds, and 2 minutes. The reason for collecting multiple samples in this interval is to sample water that sat overnight in different parts of the home’s plumbing and service line.
Get Help Interpreting Lead Test Results
If all samples come back at zero, you’re probably in the clear for lead. This is a good thing!
If any of the samples come back above zero, the interpretation gets quite a bit more complicated because EPA’s statements on lead toxicity and regulations are not in alignment. On one hand, EPA states that there is no safe level of lead, which would imply that lead concentrations should be zero. However, EPA has established a 15 ppb “Action Level” for lead… which most people (and some media outlets) interpret to mean “if my water is under 15 ppb, it’s safe.” Unfortunately, that’s simply not true, because the 15 ppb Action Level threshold was established to tell whether or not city-wide corrosion control measures are having problems, not if a single sample contains too much lead. Furthermore, the EPA allows for up to 10% of samples collected under the Lead and Copper Rule to test above the 15 part per billion Action Level (with no upper limit), and the city remains in compliance.
The reality is, if your water has lead in it after letting water sit in pipes for 6 hours or more, we highly recommend taking steps to reduce exposure, whether it's using a point of use water filter that is rated to remove lead, or allowing your water to run for 2 minutes before using it for drinking, cooking, or washing food.
We encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to Technical Support when it comes to water. Even though we do not offer lead testing, our water quality experts are happy to give advice through all stages of the lead testing process, free of charge, to make sure that you get answers in the most efficient way possible. We do not take money from test labs for referrals.
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