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Lead in Well Water

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Posted on April 20, 2016

As news headlines frequently call out these days, Flint, MI, is not the only community threatened by lead in its drinking water. Older infrastructure across much of the northeast USA, as well as pipes in private wells and inside homes, all present a risk if the water supply is corrosive. And this is clearly on our minds. VIQUA recently asked homeowners about water quality concerns, and 41% of municipal water users and 17% of well owners indicated a concern about possible lead in their drinking water. At the same time, though, 29% shared their concern about possible bacterial contamination.

Corrosive water can leach lead from pipesAnd, for well owners, those concerns are certainly justified. Studies in Pennsylvania and Virginia have both called attention to the presence of elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of 12 percent and 19 percent, respectively, of homes served by private wells. At the same time, bacterial detections (total coliforms) in the Virginia wells were twice as high at 40% of the wells tested.

 


 

Luckily, when it comes to lead, there may be obvious signs of corrosion, indicating the possibility of elevated lead levels in your drinking water. Have you noticed any of the following?

  • Bluish-green stains in sinks and tubs
  • Metallic taste to water, especially after its been sitting (for example, first thing in the morning)
  • Small leaks in your plumbing system

If you are wondering about lead in your drinking water, have your water tested. Solving the issue from a health perspective may be as straight forward as installing a specialized carbon filter to remove the lead at your drinking water tap. Note that carbon filters can be of varying grades or compositions and will therefore not always have lead removal capabilities. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications.

 

Water sampling at tap Sampling for lead should be first water from tap

 

The carbon filter approach, however, will not stop the lead from leaching into your water, nor protect your home’s fixtures from further damage. To accomplish that, it will be necessary to correct the corrosiveness of your water supply at the point of entry. Factors like pH, low hardness, and even temperature can contribute to water being corrosive. So a broader water analysis will be required, and you will want to involve a water treatment specialist in selecting and installing appropriate water treatment equipment. This is still likely to include specialized carbon filtration since components of your well, like the casing or the pump itself, may be the source of the lead.

Bacteria can likewise be treated at the point of entry. Installing an ultraviolet (UV) water disinfection system can ensure that the water at every tap is safe from harmful microbes, at all times. The challenge with bacteria is that a water test, while strongly recommended, is only a measure of the quality of your well water at that point in time. As much as anything, the detection of coliforms in your well water indicate that there is an entry route for pathogens that can cause acute illness. So chlorinating the well will likely give you a “pass”, but if the entry route hasn’t been found and eliminated, the bacteria can continue to infiltrate your water. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to default to a pour-through pitcher filter or to rely on the refrigerator filter as back-ups, but these do not provide protection from microbes. You need continuous disinfection, such as a UV system can provide.

The situation in Flint, MI, has brought much awareness to the issue of lead in drinking water, but don’t simply rely on “flavor of the month” water analysis. Check with your local public health or environmental authorities for a complete water testing schedule, and engage a specialist to optimize a water treatment solution for your particular water supply.