The Flint, Michigan water crisis has only made the necessity of clean drinking water more obvious. While there are some places in the world that have very well-protected sources of water, contamination can happen not just in the pipes or in the water treatment plant, but in the home, too. Homes that have metal taps, especially older taps, might find that they are dousing their water with lead. Individual plumbing systems are the biggest offenders of lead contamination.
What is lead and why is it dangerous? Lead is a naturally-occurring element, found almost everywhere in our environment. While it is no longer added to gasoline or paint, there are still many ways for people to be exposed to this harmful element. Lead exposure is especially dangerous for children, in whom it has been shown to cause behavioral problems and serious illnesses.
Some of the most common sources of lead exposure are water and lead paint. If your home is older than thirty-five years, it is likely to have gotten a coat of lead paint sometime during its life. If chips or dust from this paint are ingested by a person, it can have long-lasting effects. It is more likely to affect a small child because they are more likely to touch something and then put their hand in their mouth (or to put that object in their mouth). This affects those who live in inexpensive, poorly maintained buildings, often in disadvantaged areas. The only solution is to have the lead paint removed from the environment.
Drinking water is another source of lead, especially for those who live in homes that were built before 1950, when lead solder was the solder of choice for plumbing. Babies can be exposed to lead through breast milk and through drinking water from a lead-contaminated tap. If you are concerned that you and your family might be exposed to lead in your drinking water, you need to have your water tested. This can be done by ordering a test or by asking your local utilities provider to come and test your water.
A filtering device can also be very useful for removing lead from your drinking water, but before buying one, make sure that it says they use either a carbon-based filter or a reverse osmosis process.