You Are At: AllSands Home > Health > Lead in drinking water
Americans are concerned about their drinking water. Roughly 20% of households have dangerous levels of lead in their tap water, and the once sporadic cases of bacteria and industrial-chemical contamination seem to be occurring with increasing frequency.

What's the biggest treat? By far, as we all know it, is lead. Ingestion of lead causes a wide variety of health problems, such as brain damage, reduced IQ levels, short attention spans, and other mental problems. (These problems are also common among infants born to mothers who drink lead-tainted water while pregnant.) In adults lead can cause kidney damage, high blood pressure, and brittle bones.

How does lead get into tap water? It leaches into tap water as it passes trough lead-containing pipes or plumbing fixtures. Homes of all ages can show lead contamination from leaded solder joints or lead-alloy pipes. It can also come from outside of your home.

Ways to protect yourself

1//Have your tap water tested. Your local water utility may provide you with a free test kit or may be able to recommend a water-testing agency in your area. You can also buy these test kits from the companies below:

Suburban Water Testing Labs
4600 Kutztown Rd.
Temple, Pennsylvania 19560
1-800- 433-6595

Clean Water Lead Testing
291/2 Page Ave.
Asheville, North Carolina 28801

A typical test requires two water samples: The first sample is taken early in the morning, when the water has been sitting overnight in your home's pipes. The other is taken after the water has been running over a minute. Even if the first sample contains dangerous concentrations of lead, the second sample will not, in nine out of ten cases.

3// Get a water-purification system. Cation-exchange filters remove 80% to 90% of lead and cost less than $200. Reverse-osmosis filters remove 90% to 95% and cost about $300-$400. Distilled Units remove nearly 100% of lead, and unlike cation-exchange or reverse-osmosis systems, they do not need periodic filter-element changes. But unlike these other systems, distillation units require electricity and cost $200 to $300 plus about $100 a year in electricity.

Filter makers general specify a schedule for changing the filter elements on cation-exchange and reverse-osmosis units. But an element that lasts six months in one system might last half as long in a home with a higher concentration of lead. Until you get a sense of how long the filter lasts in your home, have your filtered water tested for lead about every four months.