The Dangers Of Lead In Drinking Water

Lead is a heavy metal that when consumed by humans could cause serious health issues especially for young children aged one to five. Although people can be exposed to lead through a number of ways, the most common means of exposure remains to be the consumption of contaminated water.

Once lead has been introduced into the human body, it competes for absorption with calcium. When it gets into the blood stream, lead sticks to the red blood cells and is transported into soft tissues like the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Lead could also be absorbed into the bones where it can stay for decades and recirculate in the blood when a bone breaks or when a woman gets pregnant – poisoning both the mother and foetus.

 What are the health effects of lead consumption?

Lead is a cumulative toxicant affecting multiple body systems so its effects might go unnoticed until lead levels in the blood become extremely high. Young children are however more vulnerable to the toxic effects of this heavy metal than adults.

For both children and adults, the brain is the most sensitive organ to lead poisoning. For young children, exposure to lead can have an adverse effect on brain development or cause problems with the nervous system.

Some of the short-term symptoms of lead poisoning may include constipation, abdominal pain, memory loss, infertility, headaches, irritability and tingling in the feet and hands. In severe cases, lead poisoning can cause seizures, coma, anaemia and even death.

Where does lead in water come from?

The major source of lead in drinking water is corrosion of the plumbing system. Old water fixtures or lead-solders used to connect pipes are corroded by the water passing through them causing contamination of the water.

The extent to which lead gets into the water depends on the:

  • Chemical properties of the water – whether acidic or basic and the minerals in it.
  • The amount of lead the water comes into contact with.
  • The water’s temperature.
  • How worn the pipes are.
  • The amount of time the water stays in the pipes.
  • The coatings inside the plumbing.

Because lead is a cumulative toxicant, there are no safe lead levels that one can consume. Ideally, a person should consume zero amounts of lead.

How can you tell whether your water has lead?

You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in your drinking water. The only way to find out if the water has lead is to have it tested in a laboratory. You can also ask your water provider whether the water they supply has any lead in it. If your house is served by public water systems, you can easily find this information on the internet or contact your water provider if the information is not posted.

How to remove lead from drinking water

The first thing you will need to do is to identify where the lead is coming from. Is it coming from your house or outside? If your water supplier guarantees that the water they provide is lead-free, then any lead contamination in the water would obviously be coming from your home’s plumbing. Have someone check it and change it for lead-free plumbing.

Lead cannot be absorbed through the skin, so bathing with lead-contaminated water is not dangerous. Consumption of this water can, however, be detrimental so make sure to purify your drinking water to remove lead before you drink it.

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