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What you can do about lead in the water

Face it, you’re making a small leap of faith when you fill a glass with tap water and hand it to a young child. You’re trusting that it is healthy and free of contaminants such as lead, which causes neurological problems (such as hyperactivity) and can harm growth and hearing in children. According to the EPA, it can cause high blood pressure, memory problems and other issues for adults.

The hazards of lead in drinking water resurfaced this week when a Congressional subcommittee reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made false assurances back in 2004 when lead levels in D.C. tap water spiked. As Post reporter Carol D. Leonnig reported: "The nation’s premier public health agency knowingly used flawed data to claim that high lead levels in the District’s drinking water did not pose a health risk to the public, a congressional investigation has found.”

The spike in lead levels happened after there was a change in the chemical used to purify drinking water, which caused more lead to leach into the water from lead water lines serving some District homes. The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority stressed this week that a different chemical has been in use since the 2004 problem, and that today’s lead levels are "far below the EPA’s regulatory requirements."

Instead of trust--and its evil twin, worry--you might take matters into your own hands. Simple habits, like letting the water run for a few minutes first thing in the morning, using the right filters, or having your water tested, offer assurance that what you’re drinking is as safe as you can make it.

For about $25-$100, you can hire a certified tester. Edward Dantsker, lab director for Anabell Environmental Lab in Gaithersburg, fields requests from throughout the metro area. For $25 Anabell will instruct consumers how to draw a one-liter sample and will return a report in two or three days. (If you wanted official results, they would send a certified tester to draw the sample, at $125 per sample.) Check with your utility about free testing. DC WASA, for example, does free testing, upon request, for homes that have lead service lines.

Bob Ferguson, vice president overseeing water programs for the nonprofit NSF International, recommends regularly cleaning out the screen filter at the end of your tap. Small bits of the soft metal can lodge there--although without a chemical test you won’t know if it’s lead or plain old dirt.

Filters can help--as long as you choose the right one. Whether it’s one that goes under the sink, is attached to the tap, in the icemaker or in a pitcher, just make sure the filter claims to meet NSF Standard 53 and explicitly says that it reduces lead. Consider adding a filter--or filtered pitcher--to the bathroom tap if you or your little ones use it for a middle-of-the-night drink.

Although some garden hoses are marketed as being "lead safe," be skeptical. Hoses, nozzles and other hardware used in the garden is largely unregulated--and not intended for water that’s for human consumption. A gulp from the garden hose may be a fond memory from your youth--but it’s not safe.

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  May 20, 2010; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  Fortress Home  
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