Archive for November, 2013

Why Is My Drinking Water Contaminated With Lead?

November 30, 2013

Andrew Siegel, MD; Blog #130

I reside in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a lovely suburban town in Bergen County, just a short commute to New York City.   I recently received a Ridgewood Water report in the mail entitled Important Information About Lead In Your Drinking Water.

The bottom line is that elevated levels of lead were found in our drinking water during monitoring conducted in June of 2012, almost a year and a half ago. Some drinking water samples had lead levels above the EPA “action” level of 15 parts per billion, which can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women, infants, and young children. The report further stated that Ridgewood Water is “making every effort to remediate for this contamination and is in the process of optimizing a treatment method to control lead corrosion in the piping of its water system.”  So, a problem was detected almost 18 months ago and they are notifying me now…WTF?  Unfortunately, too, I’m fairly certain that this lead contamination is not limited to my town nor Ridgewood Water alone.

Ridgewood Water is required to have a program in place to minimize lead in our water. This includes corrosion control treatment, public education, and replacement of a portion of each lead service line owned by Ridgewood Water if testing determines that the line contributes lead concentrations of more than 15 ppb after completion of the comprehensive treatment program.  I do not know if other water companies have similar intervention programs in place.

Lead can cause serious health problems as it builds up gradually in the body over many years and is stored in our bones, potentially causing damage to the brain, kidneys, and red blood cells. While the greatest risk is to infants, young children and pregnant women, it also affects adults with kidney conditions, hypertension and other issues.

Lead a metal that is commonly found in the environment. The major sources are lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust and soil, some plumbing materials, and drinking water. It is estimated that up to 20% of lead exposure comes from drinking water. Lead can be found in pottery, pewter, brass fixtures, food and cosmetics. Lead is not a natural water contaminant in rivers and lakes, but enters drinking water primarily on the basis of corrosion of lead-containing materials in the water distribution system and household plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder and pipes made of lead that connect homes and buildings to water mains. In 1986 Congress banned solder containing more than 0.2% lead and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes, and other plumbing materials to 8%.

When water stagnates in lead pipes or plumbing systems, the lead may dissolve into the drinking water. The initial water drawn from the tap in the morning or anytime after the water has not been used for hours, can therefore contain fairly high levels of lead.

The following are steps that can be taken to reduce lead exposure in drinking water:

  1. Run the water to flush out the lead when the tap has not been used for more than 6 hours. This requires running the cold water for 15–30 seconds. Although it wastes water, it is typically less than a gallon, and is important to minimize lead exposure.
  2. Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula as hot water dissolves lead more rapidly than cold water.
  3. Don’t attempt to boil water to remove lead, as it is ineffective.
  4.  Seek alternative sources of water including bottled water or use a water filtration system.
  5.  If you are concerned about lead exposure, get your child tested by contacting your local health department or pediatrician.

BOTTOM LINE: You need to be aware of and take action against all issues that affect your health and well-being…sadly, that even includes government regulated programs.

For more information on mitigating lead exposure and the health effects of lead, visit the EPA website at or call the national lead information Center at 800–424–LEAD or the safe drinking water act hotline at 1–800–426–4791.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

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