How to find out if there’s lead in your home water supply

how to test your home water supply for lead 14225515 ml
Kidsana Maimeetook/123RF
With the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, reaching an absolute fever pitch as of late, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if you’ve pondered the likelihood of lead appearing in your own water supply. Though the predicament in Flint is the definition of “worst case scenario,” anyone’s home water supply could potentially contain a little lead, and the Environmental Protection Agency says there’s no safe level of lead.

According to the EPA — and common knowledge — prolonged exposure to lead is highly harmful to one’s health, especially young children; pregnant women; and adults suffering from cardiovascular, kidney, or reproductive issues. It is a toxic metal, after all.

Perhaps what’s most frightening about even the smallest exposure to lead is the fact that it bioaccumulates in the human body, meaning it’s a highly persistent toxin. While one would reason that a child or pregnant woman should never be exposed to lead at all, even the healthiest of adults have the ability to get poisoned with minimal contact over a prolonged period of time. However, the EPA does say showering or bathing in lead-contaminated water is safe, because human skin does not absorb lead.

So now that you’re good and worried about a potential lead contamination in your own home water supply, what are your options for testing for or monitoring this toxin? To help you get a grasp on just how much of this contaminant might be lurking in your water, we’ve compiled this quick how-to guide.

Call your local municipal water supplier

This is perhaps the easiest way to check lead levels in your water supply, as local municipal water suppliers (should) always have up-to-date records pertaining to levels of various contaminants found during routine tests. Some suppliers also post the results online, which consumers can find by entering state and city or county on the EPA’s website. Private well owners do need to go to a different EPA site; however, the process for finding the report remains the same.

The EPA lists its desired lead level threshold at 15 parts per billion, meaning you’ll want to see levels lower than this on your report. If your readings show a level at or above that defined line, simply contact your water supplier and ask, “Does the service pipe on my street have lead in it?” Your supplier should have the necessary information available to give you one of the following two answers:

Yes: If the supplier answers yes, immediately begin taking steps toward fixing the problem. The Center for Disease Control says to run a shower (or similar high-volume water source) with cold water — not warm or hot, as heating water will raise lead levels — for roughly five minutes. Once completed, it’s then recommended you run the sink in your kitchen on cold — not warm or hot — for around two minutes. After following these steps, it should be safe to stockpile the resulting tap water in containers for cooking, drinking, showering, etc.

Note: Though boiling water has the ability to remove some contaminants from water, lead is exempt from this practice.

No: You’d imagine this would mean you’re off scot-free; however, that’s not entirely the case. If the supplier says no, there’s still a chance your water is susceptible to lead poisoning via the plumbing within your home. Unfortunately, lead is odorless and doesn’t have a flavor, so at this point the best way to check for lead is to manually test it. Which leads us to:

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