Do I need to get the lead out?

By Duane Friend

Flint, Michigan is currently getting a lot of attention about lead in their water. Well-water in Illinois rarely contains detectable levels of lead, however, lead can enter drinking water through decay of plumbing materials. Homes with private wells, especially built before 1986, are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. Many homes have water softeners, which makes water more corrosive, causing lead to sometimes become an issue. Newer homes are also at risk: even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures. Exposure to lead at levels above health standards can impair a child’s development, as well as cause a variety of other adverse health effects in both children and adults.

To minimize your exposure to lead in drinking water, run the water until it gets cold before using it for drinking or cooking. This will flush out most of the lead that may have accumulated in the plumbing. Also, never use water from the hot water tap for drinking or cooking. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead. The only way to be sure of the amount of lead in your household water is to have it tested by a certified laboratory.

The Public Service Laboratory (PSL) at the Illinois State Water Survey provides limited water testing for citizens of Illinois.  The typical mineral analysis is only for citizens on private wells.  However, the PSL also provides testing for lead for any household (private or municipal supply) where this may be a concern.  The laboratory will provide bottles and instructions, and the fee for testing is $25.  Samples may be mailed in or dropped off at the PSL office in Champaign.  Please call (217) 300-7420 for more information or to request a kit.

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About the author

Duane is an Educator with University of Illinois Extension in the Calhoun/Cass/Greene/Morgan/Scott unit.

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