Although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, lead in drinking water can significantly increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. The EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. The EPA action level for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion (ppb) or 0.15 milligrams of lead per liter of water. Lead builds up in the body over many years and can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys.
Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants, in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household plumbing. These materials include lead based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect your house to the water main (service lines.)
In 1986 Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2 percent lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0 percent. When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing systems containing lead for several hours or more, the lead may dissolve into your drinking water. This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead.
Testing is essential; You cannot see, taste or smell lead in drinking water.