You have likely heard a lot about lead lately. Flint, Michigan, the city of Tacoma and some regional schools have reported elevated levels of lead in their drinking water after testing water samples.
According to the World Health Organization, “Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage.”
Lead in drinking water usually comes from older water distribution lines or household plumbing rather than from wells or lakes and rivers. When water is acidic, and it remains in contact with solder or fixtures that contain lead, the lead can dissolve into the water.
Although current regulations prohibit the use of lead in plumbing fixtures and solder, this has not always been the case. If you live in older housing built before the mid-1940s, we recommend you run your tap at least two minutes after water has sat in the pipes for 6 hours or more. This will help flush out any lead that may have accumulated in your pipes.
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If you live in newer housing and are concerned about lead, you can flush your pipes by running your tap until the water is noticeably cooler. Also, use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula since hot water may contain higher levels of lead.
The recent attention lead has been receiving prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to issue a directive to the state Department of Health and partner agencies to assist local communities with lead testing and to take steps aimed at reducing lead exposure in Washington. Inslee’s directive charges DOH and other state agencies to take action to reduce lead exposures, not only in drinking water but also in state infrastructure and places where children are most susceptible to lead exposure, such as older buildings with lead paint.
As Inslee stated, “While no imminent public emergency has been discovered, recent detections of lead in some water systems are highlighting the important roles our water utilities, schools, public health departments and the state play in ensuring we all have access to safe, clean drinking water. This directive will better ensure we’re working in coordination and leveraging resources effectively to tackle lead at all its primary sources, whether it’s water, paint or soil.”
Besides water, there are several other sources of lead in our environment that should get our attention. Common sources of lead include lead-based paint, contaminated soil, children’s toys and jewelry, workplace and hobby supplies, traditional home remedies and cosmetics, lead-glazed ceramic ware, pottery and leaded crystal, imported candy and mini-blinds. More information on these sources can be found on the DOH website: tinyurl.com/zb62lpw
If you are concerned about lead levels in your water system, you can find out more about it. Larger water systems have scheduled lead testing, and these results are available to you through their Consumer Confidence Reports that they are required to provide to their customers each year. Smaller water systems and private well owners in Thurston County are not required to test for lead, but if they choose to, there are several laboratories that have the capacity to test their water.
If you decide to test your own water, be sure to contact an accredited laboratory for proper sampling containers and instructions on how to collect your sample.
If you are concerned that you or your child have been exposed to lead, talk to your health care provider, who may ask questions to determine your risk for lead poisoning. The only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed to lead is to have their blood tested.
Clean water is essential for good health. Our local health department works with partners, through efforts such as our own water-quality monitoring group and the Environment Action Team of Thurston Thrives, to keep our community’s waters clean.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.