Is your plumbing contaminating your drinking water?
Household pipes and fixtures can create health issues — even in newer homes. Learn what the culprits are and how to protect your family.
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Homes built after 1986 are likely to have plumbing pipes made from PVC, CPVC, PEX or perhaps copper or galvanized metal. All of these are an improvement over older lead plumbing and plumbing materials, banned because they can leach lead into a home's drinking (potable) water. (Bing: What are the health hazards of lead?)
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead in drinking water has some significant health effects, including:
1) Children under 6 can have delayed mental and physical development.
2) Some children under 6 can experience slight deficits in their attention span and learning capabilities.
3) Prolonged adult exposure can create high blood pressure or kidney problems.
Does a home you're buying have lead pipes?
Lead plumbing is often a case of "let the buyer beware." Counties and cities often do not require sellers to bring plumbing up to code. Failure to have an independent home inspection is not only penny-wise and pound-foolish, but it can expose your family to health hazards. Before buying, hire an independent lab to test samples from the home's faucets.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Where to find good DIY advice online
Chris Spannagel, owner of Best By Farr Plumbing in Cottonwood, Ariz., says that almost anything that touches drinking water since the mid-1980s is relatively lead-free. He last replaced lead pipes 30 years ago when he was working in Denver's older homes. More recent faucets can be another story.
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What inorganic contaminants enter home drinking water?
Groundwater is seldom a source of inorganic contaminants. But lead is not the only metal piping that can leach contaminants into drinking water.
- Galvanized pipes: Exposure to cadmium from natural deposits, leaching pipe fittings or older chrome-plated faucets can contaminate water. Over the years, this exposure can damage kidneys.
- Copper pipes: If incoming water is below pH 6.5, or if lead solder was used to join pipe segments, copper and/or lead can leach into drinking water. For some people, short-term exposure to copper creates gastrointestinal distress. People with long-term exposure can suffer liver or kidney damage. People with Wilson's disease can be particularly susceptible.
- Solder and PVC joint compounds: Reduced-lead solder and liquid joint compounds are today's standard but may not have been used when your home was built.
- Other inorganic (nonbiological) drinking-water contaminants: In the EPA's list of 16 inorganic contaminants, only lead, galvanized metal and copper cite plumbing as a contamination source. Sources of other contaminants include pollution from industry or, more rarely, natural soils. In older neighborhoods, the culprit can be the lead pipe between your house and the city water main.
Mitigating plumbing-caused problems
Your water company's annual quality report or a test of your well can determine whether your external source has safe inorganic levels. Testing water from household faucets can determine if contamination is present from interior household plumbing. Remedies are specific to each type of contaminant. Systems range from reverse osmosis to distillation and filtration. Any of them are only as good as your rigorous attention to replacing filters or keeping the system in top working condition.
It is essential that your equipment or treatment system bear the NSF/ANSI Standard 61 certification. That standard complies with a 2006 California law that reduced acceptable lead levels in drinking water from 8% to 0.25%.
Faucets manufactured or installed in the U.S. since 2010 must also meet NSF/ANSI Standard 61 criteria.
Leaching occurs when water sits in your pipes; therefore, follow these precautions with water from the tap:
- Always run the water for a while before using it for drinking or cooking.
- Use an aerator on faucets and clean out deposits monthly.
- Always use cold water for drinking or cooking. Hot water is more likely to cause leaching.
- If you've been on vacation, run cold water until it gets colder. Colder water from external pipes is less likely to be contaminated.
Think of new faucets, a treatment system and a licensed plumber as your partners in protecting your family's health.
None of the "toxic" or "cancer causing" potential chemicals need any more press. It is sad that it is one more virtual "conspiracy" hypothesis and will make people do extreme measures to prevent something that is not happening.
If our dinking water was so bad and causing all these issues, then our hospitals would be full of people sickened by them, which they are not.
By the way, we, the medical community, track epidemics and we have none that are water related.
Even the WHO states: "Water is not normally considered the major source of pollution exposure to lead." (article published in 1991). Their stance is supported by the CDC.
A side bar is that if you are going to get cancer, you will. Since they are all genetic. Certain lifestyle choices will make it happen faster.
Also, some people are born stupid and it has nothing to do with lead or some mysterious toxic chemical that they got exposed to in their water.
The studies about hypertension, kidney disease etc are derived from high exposures, most are from ingestion and inhalation, (lead factory workers, kids who eat lead paint), not water.
The article make a few good points but is misleading when it comes to lead. First off let me begin by saying that the likely hood of your home or apartment having piping that conveys potable water to faucets, being made of "lead" is "zero". Lead piping was only used for DWV (drainage, waste and ventilation) primarily as "waste arms" (horizontal piping from your sink or tub drain connecting into the vertical waste riser)
If you live in a house or apt that is older than twenty years and it has copper water lines. More than likely the connections were made using 50/50 solder (50% tin and 50% lead) since then it has been illegal to connect copper water lines with solder containing any lead content at all. I wouldn't suggest ripping your house apart to rid yourself of these lines. The actual exposure is minimal and for drinking there are less involved solutions.
When it comes to Plastic piping, PVC, CPC, Pex Tubing, Polybutulene and others, I suggest that the verdict is "still out" as we have not used all of these products long enough to determine whether or not a
hazard exists. There are currently many study's underway to determine the level of hazard. I'm keeping an eye open to see those results. We may have rushed into accepting some of these products for their labor saving qualities only.
So the next time the story reads "The victim was hit over the head with a LEAD PIPE" more than likely it was a "steel" pipe as a "lead pipe" is fairly soft.
Fred Schilling Master Plumber and Member of the World Plumbing Council
informative article but did not mention that "pvc" piping is made with cancer causing materials and there is question on how much of this is leached into the drinking water