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How to Test Water for Lead?

By: Craig Smith
Published on:
How to Test Water for Lead?

One of the most worrisome drinking water contaminants is lead. That’s also why the danger it presents to the human body is why it’s one of the most publicized water impurities too.

I know that when I move into a new home, it’s also one of the priority water contaminants that I want to make sure are not found in my new residence’s drinking water.

That’s why I recommend anyone that has not tested their water for the presence of lead to do so along with doing a broad enough test to detect the presence of many other harmful water contaminants too.

Now that I have mentioned this, you may be wondering how to test your water for lead? 

One of the good things about lead being a highly publicized water impurity is that there are many different types of tests made that can detect it if it’s in your drinking water.

I will go over with you some of the different types of tests that will help you to determine if you have any lead in your drinking water and also discuss with you how to get rid of it if you do.     

Should You Test Your Water for Lead?

toxic-sign

I would be concerned if there was any type of poison present in my drinking water and that’s exactly what lead is, a poison. It’s a toxic metal to humans and animals that can have severe health effects on  every organ of the body that has been exposed to high amounts of it.

Many different ways lead can end up in your water service line and the water that you drink and ruin your water quality. Given that fact, you should absolutely have your water tested for the presence of it despite your type of water supplier.

This becomes even more important if you have small children because even small lead levels impact them much more severely than it does teens and adults.

How does lead poisoning impact young children? If a child’s body does absorb lead it has the potential to cause severe developmental issues and cause other severe health effects.

One of the ways that it does this is by preventing the bodies of growing children from absorbing such essential minerals as iron, zinc, and calcium.

This can inhibit the development of their bodies’ nervous system & brain growth and have an impact on vital organs. Drinking water lead contributes to such conditions later on in life as:

  • ADHD
  • Delayed learning
  • Noticeably lower IQ’s
  • Hypertension,
  • Kidney problems
  • Reproductive issues
  • And more!

Other ways that lead toxicity can impact someone’s health despite their age, gender, or the way they were exposed to this substance are:

  • Cognitive problems
  • Muscle movement issues
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Decreased libido
  • Poor Fetus development
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Kidney Failure
  • Blood disorders
  • Anemia
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Cardiac problems
  • And many, many more!

You would think that with all of the known health issues that are related to lead consumption that it would be a banned substance but that is not the case at all.

Although its use is now controlled in developed countries such as the USA, it’s still used today in the making of some types of products.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) agree that there is no acceptable level for the presence of lead from a municipal water supplier and the water that passes through them is routinely tested for the presence of it.

However, this statement which was established by the Safe Drinking Water Act is not a guarantee that lead will not be found in the water from your city water supplier. The same Safe Drinking Water Act does not apply to well water, so lead levels in well water are totally unregulated.

So, it’s better to play it safe and get your water tested to see if it has any traces of lead in it. Do this when you move into a new house that has a city water supplier or do yearly testing for a wide range of contaminants if you have a private well

How Does Lead Get into Tap Water?

lead

Lead is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in soils, rock, sediment, and bodies of water all over the world. So, some of the lead that is found in these substances will eventually find its way into your household water.

Most of the natural movement of lead in the environment is due to storm runoff, erosion from flooding, and other natural occurrences that displace it from its usual resting places. However, this only accounts for a small fraction of the lead that ends up in tap water.

Of much bigger concern is how man contributes greatly to higher levels of lead being found in both city and well water. This comes in the form of ground and air pollution.

One of the main ways that lead gets into the air is because it was once one of the key ingredients in gasoline. So, huge amounts of lead were emitted into the atmosphere as people were driving and this lead eventually ended up in ground and water sources.

Fortunately, now very little of the gasoline that is used contains lead, you would even have a hard time finding leaded gasoline except for special use purposes.

Industrial processes have also been a big contributor to unusual amounts of lead being found in ground and water sources. This includes plastic making (lead softens the plastic), car battery manufacturing, and jewelry making.

Lead was also a main ingredient in paint for many years. You may even have heard of incidents where children ate paint chips with lead because of these chips’ candy-like appearance and experienced health issues as a result.

It’s very common in older homes to have walls that are painted with a type of paint that contains lead.

If you have a home that was built before 1960 and you have small children, then you should have a lead abatement company test the paint on your walls for traces of lead.

By far the biggest source of lead contaminated water in homes is those older homes that have water lines that are made of lead pipes that are connected by lead solder and other plumbing materials with lead. 

A home built as recently as 1986 can have lead service lines that contain a large number of plumbing fixtures that contain lead or have lead pipes.

The problem with a service line that contains lead pipes is that over time they tend to corrode and this causes traces of lead particles to get into the water that passes through them. This is especially true if a home has water that’s pH tests to the acidic side.

It may also be the case where your home has a natural lack of minerals in the water and that may cause lead to be leached out of your pipes into the passing water.  

No matter what the cause of the source of lead from your pipes and other plumbing materials is, you are asking for problems if you don’t have the lead service line in your home redone or at the very least have a good filtration device that removes lead from your tap water.

How to Test Lead in Drinking Water?

Here are some of the different types of water testing that can help you to determine if your home’s water supply has lead in it:       

  1. Home Water Test Kit

If you are a do-it-yourself type person, then you can fairly simply test your drinking water for the presence of lead yourself. This is done by purchasing test strips that can detect lead in water.

You just dip a testing strip in a clean water sample of your drinking water and compare the color result to a chart that is on the container or comes in the test strip package.

The only drawback with these test kits is they can usually detect the presence of lead in your tap water but often do not give an accurate reading as to the lead content level in your tap water.

So, if these test kits indicate that you do indeed have lead in your tap water, you will probably need to follow that up with professional lab testing to determine the lead content level in your tap water. 

That lab report will give you a better idea of how to go about filtering the lead out of your water.     

drinking-water-test

The best tests for testing lead in drinking water yourself are all featured in our 9 Best Water Test Kits article.

  1. Professional Lab Grade Kit

This is the way that I like to go when I test my home’s water for the presence of lead or any other contaminant. That’s because the results that you will get from these water samples will be so much more accurate and reliable.

You can order certified lab test kit online and they will send you a package that contains tubes for taking water samples that you will fill to a specified level, then return them to the lab in a convenient prepaid envelope.

Your test results should be in your email inbox within a few days. 

Lead and Copper

I recommend using a company called Tap Score. They make test kits that are just designed to detect the presence of lead & copper in drinking water or more comprehensive tests that will detect a wide variety of contaminants from your municipal water supplier or that are found in your well water.         

  1. Check Your Pipes
pipe

As was previously mentioned, if you have a home that was built before 1986, then there is a chance your water is supplied by a lead service line. You should go into your basement and take a look to see if any of your home’s pipes are made of metal.

If you find that your home has pipes that are made of metal that has an orangish color, they are made of copper and not a big concern. Home water plumbing systems that are made out of black, blueish, silver, or grayish pipes are the ones that most likely will contain lead.

A quick inspection by a professional plumber or lead abatement company of your water system can also help you to determine if the metal pipes in your home contain lead.

  1. Hire Water Treatment Company

If you don’t feel comfortable doing a lead test on your home’s water for lead in drinking water yourself, then you can probably find a company that specializes in water treatment systems in your area to come to do it for you.

It won’t take them very long to do this type of lead testing, so it shouldn’t cost you very much to get the peace of mind that comes with having a water treatment specialist test for the presence of lead in your drinking water.    

What Can I Do If My Water Tests Positive for Lead?

You certainly are not without recourse if when you had your water tested that you found that you had lead in it. The best place to start once you know you have lead present in your drinking water is to find its source.

If you have lead-lined pipes in your home that are most likely the cause of the problem, you will want to take steps to have those replaced with modern PVC pipes.

It may even be the case if you own a well that you will never find the source of the lead contamination in your household water. 

Then, your only choice to remove lead and improve your tap water quality will be to be proactive and get a water filter that can help your drinking water become lead free. 

Water Filters That Remove Lead

SpringWell-WS-Whole-House-Water-Filter

Several different types of water treatment systems will eliminate lead from tap water. This includes some of the best water softeners and various types of whole house filtration equipment that contains activated carbon filtration media.

The problem with these is they do not usually reduce lead content in your drinking water so that it’s nearly 100% lead free and in the case of water softeners, they are not designed to remove high concentrations of lead from household water.

Distillation equipment is also very good at removing nearly 100% of the lead that’s present in tap water with two major drawbacks; it’s an extremely time-consuming water quality enhancing process and it also involves a high amount of energy use.

Do not confuse distillation with boiling water because that procedure is ineffective at protecting your family’s health from lead.  

My Recommendation

SoftPro Reverse Osmosis

When someone asks me how to remove a significant amount of lead from their incoming water, I always recommend that they purchase a good reverse osmosis filtration system. These will usually remove up to 99.1% of the lead in the water that passes through them.

Another bonus that you get by choosing a reverse osmosis system is that they will remove many other tap water impurities too, so they will even further improve your water quality.

The only drawback with using reverse osmosis treatment to remove the lead content that’s found in your household water is they will need to be cleaned very often if you have an unusually high level of lead in the water coming from your well.

whole-house-lead-cyst-removal-system

In that case, it’s best to install a quality lead-specific filter on your incoming water line before your water reaches the point where your reverse osmosis filtration system is installed.   

Some Final Thoughts on Lead in Drinking Water

So, should you panic if you test your tap water and it has lead in it? The answer here is no if your water has a lead content level that’s at 15 parts per billion (015 mg/L) or below. On the other hand, you should stop drinking your tap water immediately if it tests above this figure.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency and Center for Disease Control both recommend that lead levels be at zero in drinking water, this 15 parts per billion figure of acceptable lead limits in water is the EPA’s action level for lead.

You don’t have to stop drinking your water immediately if your water tests at or below this level, but you should still start taking proactive steps to put in a water filtration system that takes your tap water’s lead level down near zero.

This is especially true if you have small children. There are many good water filtration alternatives for doing this and many of those will remove several other harmful impurities from your drinking water too.

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AUTHOR
Craig Smith
Craig got his start in water working in the swimming pool and spa industry. Water treatment would grow into his main career but he ended up working in the pool industry for over 26 years where much of his time was spent balancing the water in customer's swimming pools and installing water filtration equipment. Craig offers an abundance of water treatment knowledge after helping homeowners get pure water for 26 years.

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