Lead in Drinking Water
In west Michigan, lead in drinking water is rarely identified as the primary route of exposure for children with elevated blood lead levels. While lead exposure through drinking water is possible, EPA-mandated testing results for west Michigan communities consistently report that the lead content in municipal water supplies is below EPA guidelines. In Grand Rapids, the most recent testing results available (2013) report lead levels at an all-time low in Grand Rapids' water.
While this is good news, water testing can only provide lead content at one moment in time. Water testing cannot guarantee that your drinking water is safe 100% of the time. In order to assure safe drinking water, use an NSF-approved water filter (more information below).
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Potential Hazards in Drinking Water
Increased Risk with Partial Lead Service Line Replacement
Recognizing that there have been no major changes to local water programs in west Michigan, the Healthy Homes Coalition's primary concerns with lead in water arise when there is construction activity involving the water system. Most notably, the partial replacement of lead service lines (the line between the street and the home) have proven problematic.
Partial lead service line (LSL) replacements have been conducted in municipalities across the nation and the impact upon lead-reduction in residential tap water has been varied. While the precaution has not been adequately studied because the sample size available to CDC was of insufficient size, “preliminary results suggest that when lead service lines are partially replaced, that is the public portion of the line from the main to the meter is replaced, children are more likely to have blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 μg/dL, compared to children living in housing with either undisturbed lead service lines or service lines that are not made of lead” [source: CDC letter to local lead program managers].
Due to a lack of testing, it is unclear if this type of work in Grand Rapids and other west Michigan communities results in elevated lead content in the water. The truth is, we simply do not know. Because of this lack of information, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends precaution. It is our desire to see 100% of those who own properties being directly affected by service line replacement achieve the maximum benefit of complete service line replacement and the protection of interim filtration until water samples meet clearance.
Frequently, partial LSL replacement has resulted in a short-term increase of lead content in residential water. The impact on effectiveness of partial LSL replacement is multi-factorial. "Both full LSL replacement and partial LSL replacement generally result in elevated lead levels for a variable period of time after replacement. The limited evidence available suggests that the duration and magnitude of the elevations may be greater with partial LSL replacement than full LSL (replacement) [source: EPA Science Advisory Board]. As a result, many communities and organizations, including the CDC and EPA, have made the recommendation that the precautionary principle be followed. The only documented way to achieve significant precaution is through full LSL replacement.
If the utility is replacing the water main in your street or their portion of a lead service line, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends the following precautions:
- Consider full replacement of the service line. Often there can be a cost savings to the homeowner if they replace the private portion of a lead service line in conjunction with local utility work. Homeowners in Grand Rapids in need of a loan to replace LSL should call 311 to inquire about the ten-Pay plan.
- Flush your water service line. To remove potential sources of particulate lead, remove faucet aerators from all cold water taps and open all taps, including those without aerators. Let the water run for 30 minutes. Back flush and clean out your aerator before reinstalling. The City will provide homeowners who flush their water system with a one-time credit on their next water bill upon request. For more information, see this important health notice.
- Use NSF approved water filtration [more info on NSF-approved filters for lead] for two years following partial or full service line replacement or until your water tests at a level with which you are comfortable. While the EPA sets an allowable limit of 15 parts per billion for municipal water testing, the EPA "has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels" [source: EPA]. According to a CDC report, “Residents of properties where plumbing work has been done, including partial replacement of LSL, should take precautions such as using bottled or filtered water until they are sure that the water lead levels are below the EPA action level of 15 ppb” [source: CDC].
- Consider conducting private water testing to assure that your drinking water is safe.
- Special precaution should be taken by parents who are formula feeding children since such a significant portion of their diet depends upon the quality of the water source and because infants are undergoing rapid neurological development that can be negatively impacted by lead exposure.
- Clean out faucet aerators regularly. Particulate matter containing lead can get caught in faucet aerators and contribute to increased lead in drinking water. While this is especially important following water service line replacement, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends cleaning out aerators each month regardless of service line status.
Plumbing Components with Lead Content
According to the EPA, the most common problem with lead in plumbing components is "with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water" [source: EPA].
The EPA says, "Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) has reduced the maximum allowable lead content -- that is, content that is considered "lead-free" -- to be a weighted average of 0.25 percent calculated across the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures and 0.2 percent for solder and flux" [source: EPA]. This reduction in allowable lead content for plumbing products (pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures) only recently took effect in January of 2014. Previously, plumbing products with up to 8 percent lead were considered "lead-free".
Many local water service providers in Michigan add phosphate to the water, which results in such components being covered over time with a protective coating.
The Healthy Homes Coalition recommends replacement of lead-containing plumbing components at the end of their service life with lead-free products or sooner if water testing shows elevated lead content in household water.
More information on lead in plumbing components can be found at these helpful websites:
How to Get Water Tested
The Kent County Health Department began offering water testing for lead in June 2016. Sample collection kits are available at no charge at the Kent County Health Department, Environmental Health Division, 700 Fuller Avenue NE in Grand Rapids. The cost to get your water analyzed for lead is $18 per sample. More information is available on the Health Department's Laboratory website under "drinking water testing."
The State of Michigan also offers water testing for lead. The cost is also $18. For a fact sheet complete with contact information, click here.
If you have a lead service line, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends a second sample that captures water that has been sitting in your service line. Click here for a sample protocol on how to collect both a "first draw" and a second sample that collects water that has been sitting in your home's service line.
Please note that water testing can only provide lead content at one moment in time. Water testing cannot guarantee that your drinking water is safe 100% of the time. In order to assure safe drinking water, use an NSF-approved water filter. These filters can be found for less than $30 (does not include cost of replacement filters).