Twice a year, drinking water utilities test high-risk homes for lead levels, drawing water samples which have been ‘standing’ in the pipes for several hours. Recent drinking water samples collected by regional water providers in the Bull Run service area show an elevated presence of lead (just over 15 parts per billion in some of the homes).
The major source of lead in the tap water of Portland homes is the corrosive action of water on plumbing components that contain lead, such as faucets and lead-based solder. By far the biggest sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust or soil, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 to 20 percent of a person’s potential exposure to lead may come from drinking water.
Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources, especially for pregnant women and children 6 years and younger. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother’s bones, which may affect brain development.
There are simple ways to reduce exposure to lead in water. If water has been standing in pipes for several hours, consumers can reduce lead exposure from plumbing by running their water until it is noticeably cold. Hot water is more corrosive than cold water, so it is more likely to contain lead – that’s why it is important to use only cold water for cooking, drinking, and particularly when making baby formula or juice.
The Portland Water Bureau (PWB) has been treating Bull Run drinking water to make it less corrosive by raising the pH of the water, but in this round of tests the lead levels were over the level that triggers educational outreach (including this news release) and corrective actions.
“Ideally, all plumbing fixtures would be lead-free, but they aren’t,” said PWB Administrator David Shaff. “The next best option is to inform our customers, and provide them with the knowledge to protect themselves and their families.”
There are steps customers can take to reduce their exposure to lead in your water:
- Run your water to flush the lead out. If the water has not been used for several hours, run each tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes colder before drinking or cooking.
- Use cold, fresh water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.
- Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
- Consider using a filter. Check whether it reduces lead – not all filters do. Be sure to maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality. Contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or www.nsf.org for information on performance standards for water filters.
- Test your child for lead. Ask your physician or call the LeadLine to find out how to have your child tested for lead. A blood lead level test is the only way to know if your child is being exposed to lead.
- Test your water for lead. Call the LeadLine at 503-988-4000 to find out how to get a FREE lead-in-water test.
- Regularly clean your faucet aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Regularly cleaning every few months will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.
- Consider buying low-lead fixtures. As of January 4, 2014 all pipes, fittings and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25% lead. When buying new fixtures, consumers should seek out those with the lowest lead content.
To get your water tested for lead or for more information on reducing lead exposure around your home or building and the health effects of lead, contact the LeadLine at 503-988-4000, or visit their website at www.leadline.org.