How to tell if there's lead in your home's drinking water

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 04, 2016

Steps you can take, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to reduce the risk of exposure to lead through your home's drinking water.

 

NEWARK — Elevated levels of lead have been found in dozens of school buildings in the state's largest school district. Officials' assertion that aging pipes are the cause has lead to statewide calls for reform.

Legislators are proposing required school water testing and remediation funding. Local politicians are demanding help overhauling the infrastructure that lies beyond the school buildings. Federal officials say many older homes and apartment buildings could be at risk for lead contamination in their water. Check out some common questions and answers about the possibility of lead in your home's water.

Is there a "safe date" for my home's pipes?

Unlike lead paint – the use of which was drastically reduced after a 1978 law prohibiting it – recently used pipes could still carry lead risks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Safe Water Drinking Act was amended in 1986 to prohibit the use of pipes, solder, or flux that were not "lead free," so some point to that year as a "safe date." But, the EPA warns that, due to fluctuating definitions of "lead free," pipes installed much more recently can also contain relatively high amounts of lead. "Even legally 'lead-free' plumbing may contain up to eight percent lead," the EPA warns.

How does lead from pipes and fixtures get into the water?

According to the EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead can leach from pipes and other plumbing fixtures into the water that runs through them. Chemical reactions between the water and plumbing can cause the pipes to corrode. The amount of lead that can seep into the water is dependent on a number of factors, the EPA says, such as the chemistry of the water, how long it sits in the pipes, and whether or not the pipes have protective coatings.

How can you tell if there is lead in your water?

The make-up of the actual water in your home can be determined in different ways, depending on its source. If your water is from a municipal source, it is required to have annual testing. See how you can get the results of your town's "Consumer Confidence Report" here.

If your water is supplied by a private well, the EPA suggests contacting your local health department, and/or nearby water utilities that use ground water, to see if there are concerns about potential contaminants near your home.

The only way to tell the level of lead in your home's water is to have it tested, the EPA says. If you have a private well, the EPA suggests having the water tested for lead and other common contaminants once a year.

The state Department of Environmental Protecting keeps a running list of certified water testing laboratories in New Jersey. The Rutgers Cooperative Extension in 2013 also compiled a county-by-county list of certified testing agencies.

What do I do if lead is found in my drinking water?

You can take a few steps, federal agencies say, to reduce the amount of lead that gets into your water, such as flushing your pipes (letting the water run for a while before using it), and using cold water, not hot.

You can also have filters and treatment systems installed in your home's plumbing systems to treat the water. Check independent certifying agencies – NSF International and the Water Quality Association – to be sure that the devices you are installing are certified to reduce lead hazards.

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