The Flint Water Problem Part III: Protecting Your Water Quality

The Safe Drinking Water Act, enacted in 1986, required the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for the concentration of lead in public pipes and pushing for “lead-free” water systems. But, lead is everywhere. Lead enters our bodies from drinking water, as well as dust, soil and air. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the primary source of lead exposure is from inhaling dust or eating particles contaminated by lead paint chips. Lead was a commonly used in paint, gasoline and many other materials for years before it was considered toxic.

Since lead is so common and toxic, it takes very little lead exposure to damage a child compared with an adult, especially fetuses and infants. Low levels of lead exposure are linked to damage to a child’s blood cells and nervous system, as well as learning disabilities, poor hearing, impaired growth and more. Many experts suggest that parents get their children’s lead level tested at ages 1 and 2, and possibly more often, depending on the area of the country. The test is easily done by a pediatrician or health department.

Just like in Flint, lead can be found in plumbing materials, including faucets, pipes, fittings and the solder that holds them all together. They can become corroded and release lead into the water. According to the EPA, corrosion is likely the result of high acidity or low mineral content in the water. Testing kits are available for sale online and in stores. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a long list of instructions for testing for lead.  Many companies can also test for lead throughout a home, testing water, paint and other household sources. These companies can also make recommendations for removal, if necessary. The EPA also recommends that you should verify the lead-reduction claims of device manufacturers by checking with NSF International or the Water Quality Association.

Testing for lead in your water is only one part of the solution. If lead is found in the water, you can use bottled water for drinking and cooking. Most of the time, the lead level is low enough that you can still use tap water for washing and bathing.You can also have a whole house water filter installed. Whole house water filters remove more than just lead. They remove dirt, silt, clay, and sediment, as well as chlorine, pesticides and other chemicals. They can also minerals that create acidic water that can damage your pipes and water heater.

Once you’ve determined that your water is safe to drink, you can fight the effects of lead with good nutrition. The EPA has guidelines on maintaining a healthy diet to mitigate the effects of lead and even has recipes. They recommend a diet of iron-rich foods, calcium-rich foods, and Vitamin C-rich foods to protect you from the harmful effects of lead. They also have recommendations to lower your families general exposure. For example:

  • Get your children tested for lead, even if they seem healthy and wash anything that may end up in a child’s mouth (toys, hands, etc.)
  • Get your home tested for lead if it was built before 1978. Call 1-800-424-LEAD for more information.
  • Regularly clean floors, windows, under tables and other surfaces using damp methods that control dust.
  • Always wash your hands before eating.
  • Do not use imported pottery to store or serve food.

And many other recommendations.

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