Getting The Lead Out

An international study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives finds that children exposed to lead at levels well below standards of acceptability set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lose as many as seven points off their IQs.

It's estimated that as many as 15 percent of homes in the United States have lead coming out of their taps.

Experts say everyone is potentially at risk because there is no safe level of lead for kids or adults. But that doesn't mean you should live in fear.

Scientists say lead-laden drinking water is relatively easy to combat. A few quick steps, from testing to filtering, can help you get the lead out and keep it out.

Clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller of NYU Medical Center, who's also a contributor to Health magazine, on The Early Show Tuesday that lead is a neurotoxin, "so it affects your central nervous system, maybe cognitive development, and physical development. It's stored in your bones. So, it's very tough, especially because children are developing and growing."

"(Lead is) everywhere," she says. "Actually, it's coming from either the pipes, the solder or the fixture. So, even if your well water is very pure, how it's getting to your faucet is where the lead is coming from. And, when the water hangs out in the pipes, it leaches the lead out. So, you don't want to run water right from the tap into the glass and drink it."

To test your drinking water, Heller advises calling your local water company, which would do it for you for $20 to $100.

One step you can take to reduce the amount of lead in your tap water is to run cold water for 30 to 60 seconds. Heller says that's going to "take out the water that's been sitting (in pipes) for a while. When you turn your faucet off, the water doesn't just disappear. It sits in the pipes. Run it 30 to 60 seconds and make sure it's cold, because hot water pulls more lead out. Then you can use that water.

"They say to do that every time you run the water. I don't like wasting water so I would suggest flush your pipes, fill up the pitcher, put it in the fridge."

Boiling water doesn't solve lead woes, Heller says. It kills bacteria and other parasites, but if anything, boiling your water can actually concentrate the amount of lead in your water.

Several types of water filters are effective in fighting the lead problem, Heller says.

The style you buy is a matter of personal choice. Some people like carafe-style filters that you just fill up and then put in the fridge, giving you have pure, cold water all the time.

Faucet-mounted types are good because you don't have to remember to keep refilling the pitcher, but they can affect water pressure. You have to remember to change the filter every couple of months, at least. They say they're easy to install. If you have a faucet that doesn't fit they have adapters.

Be sure filters are NSF certified. That shows the filters reduce certain contaminants in the water, including lead, as well as microorganisms, which is important for people with compromised immune systems.

It's OK, Heller adds, to wash dishes and shower in unfiltered water because lead isn't absorbed through the skin.
  • Brian Dakss

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