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Lead is a common naturally occurring metallic element that can be found in air, soil and water. It is also a powerful toxin that is harmful to human health. Lead was commonly used in gasoline and paint until the 1970s and is still sometimes found in products such as ceramics, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.
Lead was used for centuries in plumbing because of its pliability and resistance to leaks; in fact, lead’s chemical symbol, Pb, is derived from the Latin word for plumbing. In 1986, the U.S. Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to prohibit the use of pipes, solder or flux that were not “lead free.” At the time “lead free” was defined as solder and flux with no more than 0.2% lead and pipes with no more than 8%. In 2014, the maximum allowable lead content was reduced from not more than 8% to not more than a weighted average of 0.25% of the wetted surface of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures.
The drinking water distribution system in Chesterfield County does not contain lead mains nor lead service lines. We are very fortunate to have newer mains and service lines than many areas across the U.S. and have a progressive repair / replace policy to ensure the integrity of our drinking water infrastructure.
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause immediate health effects at high doses and long-term health effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Lead can cause brain and kidney damage in addition to adverse effects on the blood and vitamin D metabolism. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells. While people are more commonly exposed to lead through paint, soil and dust, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates infants who consume mixed formula can receive 40% to 60% of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
Because it is colorless and tasteless, lead is not readily apparent in water. In fact, the only way to know for certain whether your drinking water contains lead is to have your water tested by a certified laboratory. In Chesterfield you can contact the utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator at 804-744-1360 for information and to discuss potential water testing (including lead).
Lead is not present when water flows from the treatment facility, nor is it present in the water mains running beneath Chesterfield County. However, in some older homes, lead may be present in the pipe connecting the home to the water system, commonly known as a service line, or in the home plumbing. Lead in service pipes, plumbing or fixtures can dissolve, or particles can break off into water and end up at the tap.
Lead can be harmful even at very low levels and can accumulate in our bodies over time, so wherever possible steps should be taken to reduce or eliminate your household’s exposure. While risks vary based on individual circumstances and the amount of water consumed, no concentration of lead is considered “safe.” Households with pregnant women, infants, or young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels.
The best way to remove risks of lead in water is to completely replace all sources of lead. But there are also steps you can take right away to reduce lead levels in your water:
Households with pregnant women, infants or young children should be especially aware of the potential for lead exposure through drinking water. If you suspect there may be lead in your home plumbing, consider having your water tested at a certified laboratory by contacting the utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator at 804-744-1360. If lead is detected, consider purchasing a filter certified for lead removal or using an alternate source of water until the problem is corrected. Babies and young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates infants who consume mixed formula can receive 40% to 60% of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
Lead is not absorbed through the skin. Bathing or showering in water containing lead is not considered a health risk.
Our department is proactive in protecting our customers. To prevent lead from dissolving into water from lead service lines or home plumbing, we adjust the water’s chemistry at the treatment plant to minimize the potential for corrosion. This process is known as corrosion control. We sample water at homes considered to be high risk to ensure our corrosion control remains effective. Although corrosion control can reduce risks, the best way to assure your home is safe from lead exposure from drinking water is to remove the potential sources of lead.
Homes built after 1986 are required to use plumbing materials with substantially reduced lead content. If you are concerned, consider having your water tested by contacting the utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator at 804-744-1360.
No, if you purchase a water filter or home treatment device it is important to make sure it is independently certified for lead removal and that it is maintained properly. Find out more on filter certification at the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) website.
Lead can impact animals the same way it does humans. Because domestic animals consume a relatively high volume of water relative to their body weight, pet owners with lead in their home plumbing may want to take precautions.
No, lead in drinking water generally represents only about 20% of total exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, drinking water can account for more than half of lead exposure in children because of their lower body weight.