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Elevated Levels of Lead in Drinking Water Found in New Jersey Towns

Levels of lead in drinking water are higher than they should be in towns of New Jersey, according to a news report by CBS New York, December 12th, 2012. Many residents are not taking any chances, choosing to drink bottled water or filtered water rather than risk their health or that of their family.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause lead poisoning if consumed or inhaled. In high doses it can be fatal, resulting in convulsions, coma, and finally death. Lead is toxic even at low doses, as it can accumulate in the cells of the body and cause long-term health effects.

Effects of Lead Contamination in Drinking Water

Children are most susceptible to lead poisoning, and even low levels of exposure to lead can damage the brain and nervous system; cause loss of concentration, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems; impede mental and physical development; and cause problems with sight, hearing, and motor coordination.

While adults are less vulnerable to the effects of lead than children, high levels of exposure, or exposure over a long period can pose serious health risks, including: high blood pressure, kidney damage, reduced fertility and other reproductive problems, as well as reduced concentration and memory loss.

Lead contaminated drinking water can therefore pose a grave health risk, and consequently is an issue that local water utilities and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take very seriously. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for lead in drinking water as recommended by the EPA is zero.

While water treatment facilities regularly check for elevated levels of lead in drinking water, lead typically gets into drinking water after it leaves the treatment plant, and may go undetected. The most common route for lead to enter drinking water is by leaching into water from old lead pipes and plumbing. Lead was commonly used for plumbing before 1986, but as it is a soft, toxic metal that is easily corroded – especially by water that is acidic in nature – lead is no longer used in water pipes and plumbing fixtures.

Another area of concern is open reservoirs, which are vulnerable to contamination from wind borne lead particles. Hurricane Sandy brought these fears home loud and clear. Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey towns face yet another problem. Wind and water damage to homes has caused paint to peel off walls, putting local residents at risk of lead exposure from lead dust released from the flaking paint of older homes. Residents are also concerned that lead particles from contaminated Superfund sites have been carried away by high speed winds and the storm surge that washed through the area. They fear that these particles could contaminate soil, groundwater sources, open reservoirs, and drinking water, and could potentially pose a severe health risk.

Precautionary Measures

If you are concerned that your water supply may be contaminated, you should get it tested. Purchase a lead water testing kit – available from home improvement stores – collect a water sample, and send this away to a reputable water testing lab for analysis.

If the lab results show that your water has elevated levels of lead, there are a number of precautionary measures you can take to protect yourself and your family.

1. Because lead leaches from pipes into water, don't use water that has been standing in the pipes for a long time. Only use cold water for drinking, preparing food, or cooking, as hot water is stored in the water heater before being heated and piped to your hot water faucet, and it stands in the pipes between use. If cold water has been standing for more than six hours you will need to flush out your pipes before drinking the water or using it to prepare or cook food – open the faucet and let the water run until it is cold.

2. Replace existing outdated lead pipes and plumbing with lead-free alternatives that comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

3. A cheaper and simpler solution is to invest in a good quality home water filter that is capable of removing lead from drinking water. This will ensure that your water is safe to drink and tastes great.

While boiling water will eradicate most pathogens, it will not remove lead or other metals from water – in fact it can actually make them more concentrated as water vaporizes as steam. The only way to safely remove lead from contaminated water is by using a drinking water filter that is certified to remove lead.

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