How to Get the Lead Out

With corrosive water found in private wells, here's what homeowners must know

While the United States has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world, it’s still important that you know what’s in your water.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that some 25 states have water that is potentially very corrosive. This can lead to harmful reactions with metal pipes and possible contamination of drinking water.

The highest risk for water complications is for people with private wells — they aren’t mandated to have state testing completed.

Over 20,000 wells were recently analyzed across the nation with evidence of corrosive water in all 50 states. The highest concentration is in the Northeast, the Southeast, and the Northwest. The highest risk for water complications is for people with private wells, as they aren’t mandated to have state testing completed.

It is “incredibly important” that homeowners have their private wells tested, especially in areas of highly corrosive water, said Cliff Treyens, director of public outreach at the National Groundwater Association.

“The key thing for a person who is in an area of corrosive water, such as the areas identified in the study, is to get a water test to determine if they have lead in their drinking water,” Treyens told LifeZette.

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Corrosive water on its own is not dangerous to consume — it is simply defined as acidic water with a low pH level. But the reaction it has with pipes can be highly detrimental as chemicals leach into water that is then consumed.

“If you’re a homeowner in a rural area and you use a water well for your drinking water, you are the person who oversees that system,” he said. “You’re like the water manager of your own system.”

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The USGS assures people that the recent report is not related to the Flint, Michigan, crisis: That contamination was from affected surface water, not groundwater, as was studied in this report. But because over 15 million U.S. households use private wells for their drinking water, this is a major concern.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Signs of Corrosion in Water” source=””]Greenish-blue stains in sinks|Metallic taste|Small leaks in plumbing fixtures|Stained laundry[/lz_bulleted_list]

Homeowners, Treyens said, need to be aware of what might be happening below ground.

Lead can contaminate drinking water for a number of reasons, including occurring deposits, local causes such as abandoned manufacturing sites, and lead-lined pipes in houses. Part of the testing process involves collecting water from all areas of the system to determine where the lead is originating from, according to Treyens.

“We recommend that all well owners who live in houses that predate the mid-’80s test their water at least once for lead,” he said. It is also important to have water tested for bacteria and other substances, annually.

Newer homes are not allowed to have the same content of lead in pipes that was once permitted. The Safe Water Drinking Act was revised in 2011 to lower the amount of allowable lead present in drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This act mandates that the EPA enforce these standards in public drinking water systems, but this leaves out private wells — of which homeowners are in control.

“We also recommend that people test annually for anything of local concern,” Treyens said.

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Well owners can treat their water to make it less corrosive with filtering devices for such things as carbon, ion exchange resins, or activated alumina — but how effective they may be, unfortunately, can vary greatly. Water quality officials recommend that before you purchase a filter, you verify any lead treatment claims made by the vendor and consult with a reputable resource such as the Water Quality Association or NSF International, a product-testing organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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