Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a toxic metal that gets into drinking water from lead or galvanized iron pipes and fittings, lead solder, and brass or chrome fixtures. Lead can be found in public and private water systems and in household plumbing. Lead pipes were commonly used for drinking water until the 1940s. Vermont Plumbing Rules banned lead solder in 1988 and allow only faucets and fittings that meet NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) standards for lead.

Hot water dissolves lead more easily than cold water. This means that you should run the water until it’s as cold as it can get for making baby food and formula or for cooking.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an Action Level for lead at 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of drinking water.

The Health Department recommends testing your private water source for lead and other contaminants. Find out what you should test

Do you know if you have lead pipes in your home? Check out this online tool to help you find out. If you are on town water, your water utility will know what the pipes are made of from their service line to your meter, but they don’t know what pipes you have inside your home. If you are on public water, test your water for lead to find out if your pipes or fixtures are a source of lead.

Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a highly toxic metal. There is no safe level of lead in the body. Too much lead in the body, or lead poisoning, can cause serious and permanent health problems. Children and pregnant women are at special risk. Young children’s bodies are developing, which makes them more sensitive to lead. Children also absorb lead more easily than adults. Lead poisoning in children can:

  • Hurt the brain, kidneys, and nervous system
  • Slow down growth and development
  • Make it hard to learn
  • Damage hearing and speech
  • Cause behavior problems

In pregnant women, lead can increase the risk of miscarriage and cause babies to be born too early, too small, or with learning or behavior problems. In adults, lead can cause high blood pressure and result in decreased fertility in men.

Treatment Options

Flushing out the plumbing will lower the amount of lead in the water in most cases. Every morning or when the water has sat in the pipes for more than six hours, let the water run until it’s as cold as it can get.

Other household water uses—such as showering or toilet flushing—will also help clear standing water from plumbing. Keep in mind that you will still need to run individual faucets for a short time before using them for cooking and drinking water. You may want to keep a container of drinking water in your refrigerator, so that the water does not have to be run every time you need it.

Other ways to reduce lead from drinking water include:

  • Plug-in distillation units
  • Reverse osmosis treatment installed under the kitchen sink.
  • NSF approved activated carbon filters

Sediment filters do not remove lead.

If you are on a public water system, the supplier or municipality can tell you what efforts have been made to decrease overall lead levels. For public water systems, call the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation at (802) 828-1535.