Introduction (for those new to this website):
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times to confirm the test results for each component tested. Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
Published: Tuesday — June 6, 2023
Some basic background regarding Lead in water
Since I get these questions so often, I wanted to write an article attempting to answer them as completely as possible. If there are any unanswered related questions lingering once you have read this article, please do let me know.
- The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that children’s drinking water should be below 1 part per billion (ppb) Lead. This includes water in school fountains. Here’s the AAP paper on this subject.
- Bottled water is allowed to have up to 5 ppb of Lead. This is the United States federal level for this standard.
- The current U.S. federal standard allows tap water (coming out of the faucet in your home, a restaurant, or even a fountain in an elementary school) to contain up to 15 ppb Lead (of course, that’s not remotely safe — especially using the AAP Lead standard for children’s drinking water as a reference — but those are the current U.S. federal allowable limits).
Section #1) Issues with federally funded water testing
The thing to understand is that when you get a water test completed by a federal agency (or an agency receiving federal funding), they will often have a low threshold of detection of 15 ppb. What this means is they may (and likely will) tell you that your water is “negative” for Lead if it is merely below 15 ppb Lead (the test’s low threshold for detection) — even though it could still be as high as 14 ppb Lead, which in reality would be a very high level of Lead known to be dangerous for children. When you get testing done, don’t let the testing agency tell you it is “‘negative’ for Lead,” without giving you a specific number.
It is vital to get an actual number — and the current science suggests that you really should not consider the water in your home safe to drink on a regular basis unless the test result is “less than 1 ppb Lead.”
If the testing you have done does not give you an actual number (or if it gives you a reading like “less than 5 ppb,” “less than 10 ppb,” or “less than 15 ppb”) you should test again, using a lab that gives more accurate test results.
Section #2) This is also a problem with NEWER fittings, fixtures & water delivery systems
The big problem is that even NEW fittings, fixtures, and other components of your water delivery system — made through 2016 (and even as late as September 1, 2020, when the new rule was finalized) — can contain enough Lead in the water-contact components to contribute to water Lead levels that may be far in excess of 1 ppb.
Key related facts:
- In response to legislation passed during the Bush administration — pipes, fittings, and fixtures were legally allowed to be labeled “Lead-free” if they contained up to 8% Lead. Yet 8% Lead is 80,000 ppm Lead.
- The new law restricting leachable Lead was drafted in 2016 but was not finalized until September 1, 2020 (see screenshot below). (Here’s a second link to the 2016 white paper which I have uploaded to my website in case it is removed from the EPA’s site.)
- The new regulation (ridiculously!) allows pipes, fittings, and fixtures to be considered “Lead-free” as long as they are no more than… 0.25% Lead, which translates to 2,500 ppm Lead! (Decidedly not “Lead-free” when you consider that federal regulatory Lead limits governing consumer goods which fall under “items intended for use by children” are required to have no more than 100 ppm Lead in the substrate/base materials!)
- Anticipating this new regulation, companies began changing their manufacturing standards to be in compliance with the new guidelines long before the date it becomes legally fully enforceable.
- (The legislation is not actually fully enforceable until September 1, 2023!) More on that here.
It is for this reason that NO MATTER HOW OLD YOUR HOUSE IS (and no matter whether or not it was “completely redone”), you should test the water from any faucet you and your children may drink from in your home. You should also consider testing the water in your children’s school (at any fountain or sink they may drink from). Schools are universally not conducting sufficient testing to ensure children are safe. In most cases, they are only testing down to the “15 ppb” threshold, and as long as their water is coming in at “less than 15 ppb,” they are considering it “safe” for children in the school to drink.
Section #3) How to properly test your water for Lead
Water cannot be accurately tested for Lead to a low enough threshold of detection with any “home test kit” currently on the market (that I am aware of). None of the kits with “test strips” you use at home actually work; they are a waste of money. (If you are interested in hiring someone to test your water for Lead, which is an extra cost and not strictly necessary, you can read more about that here.)
When testing water for Lead, a collected sample needs to be sent to a lab. You can certainly have a professional do the testing for you — or you can buy professional water testing kits online, enabling you to collect the sample yourself following the simple instructions in the kit, send it off to their lab, and await your e-mailed results once they have tested your water. (Note: as a result of the pandemic, there have been some supply shortages for these testing kits.) If you do send a sample to a lab using one of these kits, you want to first make sure the low threshold of detection for the kit you plan on using is “1 ppb.” (This ensures the lab is able to tell you if — for example — your water is “less than 1 ppb” or as low as “2 ppb” or “3 ppb,” which is still concerning if you have children.)
Section #4) Collecting your water samples for testing
Importantly, for the testing/water collection methodology (and especially if you have limited financing for testing/ if you don’t have enough money to follow best practices of testing two samples at each water source in your home):
- You should ALWAYS test a first draw sample after the water has been sitting for the longest possible duration in your pipes. In this way, you will get the highest possible Lead level from those faucets to get a sense of how dangerous they may be under the worst typical circumstance, and thus what type of filter might be best for your water’s highest Lead level.
- When we test our water, we always do so using a “first draw” (the water that first comes out of the faucet when you turn it on) after being away from our house for at least two days (which is generally a realistic, typical “worst-case scenario” for us).
- Similarly, when you test the water in the fountains at your child’s school, it is best to do it Tuesday morning before anyone arrives and uses the fountains, following a long weekend when school is closed on Monday. Or, on a Monday morning following a long weekend when there has been no school on Friday (also replicating the “worst-case scenario” for school). You can read about what happened when my son did this at his school here.
- If you have enough money to cover the cost of testing twice at each water source, you should test a “first draw” sample, then run the water (cold) for 10 minutes and get a second sample at the end of the 10-minute run.
- If you have lots of $, and “cost is no object,” (!) you may consider also getting a water sample of hot water (turn the water on and collect it when it is as hot as possible coming out of the faucet). This will let you know if you have Lead concerns in your hot water heater — which, while a good data point to have, is (generally) less of a concern than concerns for your cold water sources. This is because, as a rule from a Lead safety perspective, you should normally always drink and cook using water from your COLD water tap (hot water contamination from things like showers is not an exposure risk in most cases).
Section #5) Water test kits that work
At the time of this writing, I am only personally aware of one source for a professional lab-based Lead-in-water test kit that lists a low threshold of detection of “1 ppb.” (Please read the information for any test kits you are considering before buying them, as companies do change their standards and/or suppliers from time to time.) This is the only test kit brand I have used recently (that is currently available for sale):
- (It does not appear to be available for sale on Amazon) https://www.slabinc.com/shop/lead/lead-in-water-test-kit/
- I couldn’t find any other choices for Lead-in-water test kits that can you purchase, collect the sample, and then send the sample to a lab for a Lead content analysis; if you know of any (comparable kits) currently available for purchase, please let me know!
Owner — Lead Safe Mama, LLC
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