#AskTamara: We found leaded plumbing in our newer home! What should we do?

We found leaded plumbing in our newer home! What should we do?June 8, 2014
Sarah (Via Facebook.)

QUESTION:

Dear Tamara,

Hello! So update: we bought some lead testing kits and tested all of my daughters toys. Nothing came up BUT we randomly tested our water pipes and bingo! It looks like the solder is lead. Test came up positive right away. I’m so upset. Our house was built in 85. I didn’t think this would be an issue. We bought a bunch of bottled water to use for now and we are going to try to talk to a plumber tomorrow. I hate even the thought of washing our dishes in the water. I’m not sure what else to do at this point any suggestions?

ANSWER:

If you have another answer for Sarah, please post in the comments below.

ANSWER FROM LEN & TAMARA:

Currently in the U.S., water is officially considered unsafe when lead-levels reach 15 parts per billion (ppb.) Several toxicologists today are recommending the toxicity level for lead in water be lowered to 5 ppb or lower – which begins to approach the limit of detection of current testing technology. It is my understanding that studies are being done to support these recommendations and as soon as they are publicly available I will share the links.

Shortly after our children were poisoned in 2005, we had a need to address some leaks in our plumbing, and we went ahead and replaced all of the lines with PEX lines. This was actually very easy (walls do not usually need to be torn open to install PEX) and our resaerch suggested that they were likely to be far less toxic than our house’s very old soldered copper lines. The one consideration we had was that the PEX system used brass fittings and connectors, and with existing standards set out under the Bush (I) administration plumbing fixtures were considered “lead-free” and legally allowed to be labeled as “lead-free” if they contained up to EIGHT PERCENT LEAD! This Bush Administration standard is thankfully going the way of the dinosaur officially next year, when all plumbing fixtures and fittings need to meet California Prop 65 leaching standards – which are among the strictest standards in the world for water safety.

So in terms of what you can do:

  1. Get your water tested.  Some counties and cities offer free water testing, or an independent company can come test your water for a fee.  Other companies also sell water test kits that you send in and then the results are emailed to you – so there are lots of options.  When you test your water make sure to get the numerical results in parts per billion so you can decide based on facts if you are comfortable with the results (Don’t settle for just a “pass/fail” result.)
  2. Consider replacing with PEX plumbing if possible
  3. Check to ensure all connectors and fittings are lead-free
  4. Get high quality (Prop 65 compliant) lead-free faucets—especially for any taps from which your kids might drink water
  5. Get (at minimum) a high quality, under sink multiple cartridge or reverse osmosis kitchen water filter system or (if you can afford it) a similar system for the whole house – so your bathing and tooth-brushing is also done with lead-free water. For our under-sink system we chose a 3-cartridge system and selected a specialized cartridge to filter out Chloramine (added by our municipal water district), one for lead and for the 3rd one a general biological toxins (viruses, bacteria and other living nasties) filter… They even have 5 cartridge or 7 cartridge systems if your local water supply system has a lot of specific issues that you need to address. It’s always best to start with a thorough professional analysis of your actual particular water supply, as water quality and the presence or absence of particular issues that may be of concern vary tremendously by state, city, neighborhood and house!

One specific additional concern (which we will address more fully in a separate post) is that when fluoride is added to a water system that is already treated with chloramine, the lead levels in the water can increase by 900%… the combination of those two chemicals increases the ability of the water to pull lead from pipes, fittings and fixtures, making more lead bio-available in the water delivered from your tap.

One final water-delivery consideration is hoses and we address that HERE.

We put together a whole piece on water filtration options and will upload shortly and will post the link here as soon as we have it.

Sarah – another thing I wanted to clarify for you is that the swab kits are very useful for testing for lead in paint, but are not specifically designed to test for lead in toys.  Toys are considered toxic for children at levels as low as 90 parts per million and the detection limit set by the swabs is closer to 600 ppm.  The swabs may also not show a positive reading when used on lead-positive plastics, pottery and crystal (for example)- not because the swabs are faulty – but because they were specifically designed for testing for lead in higher concentrations in surface coatings (like found in house paint)  – something they do very well.

– Len & Tamara

References:

  1. http://www.metalscoalition.com/EPA_Lead_Free.pdf
  2. http://ecopolitology.org/2010/08/30/why-your-lead-free-faucet-may-contain-up-to-14-lb-of-lead/
  3. http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/lcr/fs_consumer.cfm
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6104a1.htm
  5. http://cenvironment.blogspot.com/2010/09/chloraminelead-pipesfluoridecontaminate.html
  6. http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2009/07/chloramine-lead-pipes-fluoride-contaminated-tap-water

4 Responses to #AskTamara: We found leaded plumbing in our newer home! What should we do?

  1. Nicole June 19, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    Tamara – which under sink or whole house system do you recommend? I have heard good things about Berkey, but don’t think I can get it in CA – oddly enough. I’ve also heard the RO isn’t good for long term use.

  2. Christina June 19, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    Very useful information. I have a question. If I choose to test water for lead, do I have to disclose the results of water testing if I decide to sell the house? Thanks!!!!!!

  3. Jessica June 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I had the same problem – super high lead in our water (except of course the filtered drinking water). This was tested by the City. We were told it could very well be the brass fittings. We replaced with copper with lead free solder. (We were replacing the plumbing anyway, luckily.) Also all new fixtures and fittings, which are prop 65 compliant, but that still means low-lead, not no-lead. I will be retesting before we move back in though.

  4. Tina Gleisner June 21, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    Important facts someone shared with me, and I’ll be passing along to my followers … thanks

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