Lead is a commonly tested for contaminant in drinking water, and public water systems must test for it on a prescribed, regular basis. WETLAB routinely tests for trace lead amounts in drinking water for many clients using two main methods- EPA 200.7 and 200.8. These methods use ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma) machines, which can detect very small amounts of trace metals in water. But why is testing for lead important? What are the potential health risks associated with lead, and when do we care about it?
Lead is most commonly introduced into drinking water from service pipes and solder containing lead that corrode. The corrosion is often due to acidity in the water, which causes the lead to leach out of the pipe and into the water. Lead can also be introduced into drinking water through erosion of natural deposits. The EPA has identified the maximum allowable content of lead in water to be 0 mg/L, and an “action level” as 0.015 mg/L.
Lead in children, even in very low levels, has been shown to cause erratic behavior, learning problems, and slowed growth. Lead exposure is most dangerous to young children, infants, and fetuses. For that reason, lead exposure is also a significant concern for pregnant women. During pregnancy, lead amounts that have built up over a lifetime can leach out of the mothers bones and impact the growing fetus. Lead can also be dangerous for adults, although typically in higher levels than in children.
To mitigate these potential health effects, it is imperative that lead levels are tested accurately and consistently. Public health agencies routinely monitor the results of these tests to ensure that action is taken before a crisis arises.
More information can be found on the Quick Reference Guide, published by the EPA.