Drinking Water: It's Time to Get the Lead Out! (Includes information about water filters, reverse osmosis & distillation)

by Monique N. Gilbert, B.Sc.
Natural Health Advocate, Recipe Developer, Freelance Writer and Author of Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook

Think your tap water is safe? Think again. Treated municipal water, even if it is of high quality leaving the treatment plant, will pick up many contaminants by the time it comes out of your faucet. The labyrinth of pipes that run throughout your city, many of which were installed decades ago, are one source of water contamination. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the plumbing in your home can also cause water contamination.

Most older residences in the U.S. have lead in their plumbing, which can contaminate drinking water. Houses, townhouses, condominiums and apartments built before 1988 are at risk of lead exposure, because lead-based solder was used to connect water pipes. In 1986, an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act banned the use of materials containing lead in public water supplies and in residential plumbing systems. However, this ban did not take effect until 1988.

Lead has a cumulative toxic effect on human health and permanently remains in the body's tissue, especially brain tissue. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, lead interferes with red blood cell formation and changes the way these cells work. It alters the way nerve cells signal each other, and disrupts the way the brain makes connections for thinking. Even small blood-lead levels can cause anemia, elevated blood pressure, hypertension, strokes, heart attack, kidney damage, and lower IQ.

Water contaminated with lead is a special concern to women and children. Lead stored in women's bones during childhood can return to the blood during times of calcium need, such as pregnancy. Lead exposure increases the risk of pregnancy complications, premature births, low-weight births, and damage fetal development. Because children are still growing, avoiding lead exposure is very critical to their future health and well-being.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has been studying lead's health effects for more than 25 years. They linked lead exposure to lower IQ, lower high school graduation rates, and increased delinquency. Research also indicates low levels of lead, which were once considered safe, has devastating consequences on children's mental and physical developments. Based on these and other findings, public health officials declared lead the number one environmental hazard to American children.

Any time water sits in older plumbing the lead from the joints leaches into it. The longer the water sits, and the warmer its temperature, the higher the lead levels. To help reduce lead exposure in older homes, the NIEHS and the EPA suggest, at the very least, to flush the water lines and only use cold water for consumption. Open the faucet and let the cold water run for two or more minutes before drawing water for cooking or drinking.

Another option to reduce lead exposure is to use purified water, like bottled or vending machine water. However, not all bottled and vending machine water is of equal purity. You must take care in choosing a quality bottled water. Find out the type of purification process used. A study conducted by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Commission showed that most contaminants found in tap water may also be found in many brands of bottled water. This is because there are no laws that require bottled water to be purer than tap water. Most bottled water only improves taste, odor and clarity, while some also reduce lead, bacteria, volatile organic compounds and other toxins. When using a vending machine, always look at the date posted when the unit was last serviced and the purification process used.

A more practical and convenient solution to reduce lead exposure is to get a household water purification device, like a water filter, reverse osmosis unit, or distiller. All three are effective in reducing lead levels and other toxic contaminants.

The most economical of these is the carbon block water filter. The density of the carbon block filters is measured in microns, which determines how finely the water is cleaned. The smaller the micron rating, the finer the filtration and the more contaminants it removes. Water filters force water through the solid carbon block by way of water pressure, so they require no electricity. Filter cartridges usually need replacing every 8-12 months.

Next is reverse osmosis (RO), which uses a semipermeable membrane to purify water. This membrane lets particles of a certain size through and holds back larger particles. A carbon filter is added at the end of the process to capture any contaminants which may have passed through the membrane. RO systems use 3-10 gallons of water for every gallon produced, without the need of electricity. The membrane needs replacing every 2-3 years and the carbon filter cartridges every 8-12 months.

Distillation is the most expensive process, requiring electricity to remove impurities. Tap water is heated in a boiling tank. Steam rises and passes into a condensing coil, leaving the impurities behind. The steam is cooled, becoming pure water, and in most units, passes through activated carbon granules to improve the taste. The distilled water is then stored in a holding tank. Depending upon the size of the distiller, it takes 2-6 hours to produce a gallon of pure drinking water. You will need to periodically change the activated carbon granules, if used.

Distilled water and RO water are both essentially mineral-free. Therefore, to counterbalance the lack of essential minerals in these two types of purified drinking water, take a multi vitamin and mineral supplement.

Whatever method of water treatment you chose, it is vital that you take steps to reduce your lead exposure. Since lead has such a detrimental effect on mental and physical health, you must take appropriate and immediate action to reduce the risks. The health and well-being of our future generations depend on it.

Copyright © Monique N. Gilbert - All Rights Reserved.


EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water -

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - http://www.niehs.nih.gov

Water Quality Association - http://www.wqa.org

National Sanitation Foundation - http://www.nsf.org

Author Bio:

Monique N. Gilbert has a Bachelor of Science degree, is a Certified Personal Trainer/Fitness Counselor, Natural Health Advocate, Recipe Developer, Freelance Writer and Author. She began a whole grain, vegetable-rich diet as a child. This introduced her to a healthier way of eating and became the foundation of her dietary choices as an adult. She became a full-fledged vegetarian on Earth Day 1990. Over the years she has increased her knowledge and understanding about health and fitness, and the important role diet plays in a person's strength, vitality and longevity. Monique feels it is her mission to educate and enlighten everyone about the benefits of healthy eating and living. 

For more information, visit Monique's website at www.MoniqueNGilbert.com

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