Point of Use Water Filters Effectively Reduce Lead in Flint, MI Water

Point of Use Water Filters Effectively Reduce Lead in Flint, MI Water

In the last decade, the discussion of lead in drinking water has been on the rise. While the Flint, MI water crisis may have been a catalyst for the recent uptick in awareness, lead poisoning from drinking water is not isolated to Flint alone. Schools and homes across the country are at risk for unhealthy lead levels in their water. In fact, 15-25 million homes in the U.S. are still connected to lead pipelines that were laid before they were banned in the late 1980s. In addition, 43 percent of school districts serving 35 million students across the country tested positive for lead. Of those, 37 percent found elevated levels and reduced or eliminated exposure, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  

lead contaminated water being displayed in a milk jug to show contamination levels.

In addition to water utilities adjusting water chemistry to minimize the possibility of lead dissolving into tap water, customers can also do their part to help reduce lead levels. Although the best way to eliminate lead exposure in water is by replacing lead service lines and interior plumbing, there are in fact ways to minimize exposure to meet the EPA’s Lead Action Level in your home. One of these ways is through point of use (POU) water filters. Properly installed POU filters can potentially protect all populations, including children and pregnant women.

A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, showed that POU filters effectively reduced lead in drinking water in a demonstration field study in Flint, Michigan.

Intro to Point of Use Water Treatment Devices

Filtration of tap drinking water in homes through POU treatment devices has gained popularity due to recent concerns of lead contamination from service lines and interior plumbing materials. According to the field study, many POU filters utilize an outer fabric of fiber surrounding a solid block primarily composed of activated carbon. Activated carbon is great for purifying liquids and gases.

Materials and Methods for the Study

Flint residents received PUR and BRITA filters [certified under NSF/ANSI-53 (total lead) and NSF/ANSI-42 (Class I particulate)] for the study. Filtered and unfiltered water samples were collected to assess whether the NSF/ANSI-53 and NSF/ANSI-42 certified POU filters being distributed in Flint were effective for the reduction of lead, regardless of influent levels above the certification criteria of 150 micrograms/L (µg/L).

* NSF/ANSI 42, 53 and 401 are the leading industry standards for filtration products and systems.

Subsequently, filtered and unfiltered water grab samples were collected at each selected sampling location, generally at the kitchen faucet. Samplers recorded field observations including the filter type/brand, filter indicator status, and the resident’s estimate of the time since the filter or cartridge was installed. All samples were collected from the cold-water tap, and three types of 1000-mL samples were collected from homes:

1. Filtered Water, Existing Filter – First, one grab water sample was collected through the existing water filter at the home (if present).

2. Unfiltered Water – Second, an unfiltered water grab sample was collected after removing the existing filter or turning the by-pass valve on the filter. No cleaning or flushing took place prior to the water grab sampling.

3. Filtered Water, New Filter – Third, after the installation and flushing of a new filter or replacement filter cartridge for approximately 2 min, a grab sample was collected through the newly installed filter or filter cartridge.

Field Study Results

Unfiltered Water Samples – The maximum lead concentration in the unfiltered water at the 345 sampling locations in this study was 4,080 µg/L , with approximately 4% of the unfiltered water samples above 150 µg/L and over 37% above the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) standard for bottled water (5 µg/L).

Filtered Water Samples – Over 97% of filtered water samples contained lead below 0.5 µg/L. The maximum lead concentration in filtered water was 2.9 µg/L, well below the bottled water standard.

Removal of Additional Metals – The sampling showed incidental removal of copper, iron, manganese, and zinc despite the filters not being certified to remove miscellaneous metals.

In conclusiuon, POU filters proved to be a reliable option for the reduction of lead in this study. Faucet-mounted point of use filters can be an important barrier against unpredictable lead release from lead service lines and/or plumbing materials.

To ensure effectiveness, POU filters should be replaced per manufacturer recommendations.

Interested in what else you can do to help reduce exposure to lead in your drinking water?

Quick Tips:

  1. Use cold water for drinking, cooking, or making baby formula. Boiling your water will not remove lead from water. In fact, lead concentrations will increase because water evaporates during the boiling process.
  2. Before drinking water from the tap, flush your pipes by running the water faucet, doing a load of laundry, or taking a shower.
  3. Be sure that your faucets screen (aerator) is clean.

Get the Lead Out During Drinking Water Week 2017!

Get the Lead Out During Drinking Water Week 2017!

As Drinking Water Week continues, Tata & Howard joins the American Water Works Association and water professionals across North America in encouraging households to identify and replace lead-based water pipes and plumbing. Lead presents health concerns for people of all ages, particularly pregnant women, infants, and young children. In children, low exposure levels have been linked to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and other issues.

Water leaving treatment plants and traveling through water mains is almost always lead-free. However, lead is sometimes present in pipes connecting older homes to the water system or in fixtures and home plumbing. A licensed plumber can help to identify lead service lines and other materials such as lead fittings and solder. Households can find out more about their water quality by having it tested by a certified laboratory.  Information on other sources of lead contamination in homes is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Water utilities can adjust water chemistry to minimize the possibility of lead dissolving into tap water, but communities and households also play an important role in keeping drinking water safe,” said AWWA Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “Together, let’s get the lead out.”

More information on lead:

Lead in Drinking Water of Our Nation’s Schools

Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future

Water Crisis in the United States: Lead in Drinking Water

About Drinking Water Week

For more than 35 years, AWWA and its members have celebrated Drinking Water Week, a unique opportunity for both water professionals and the communities they serve to join together to recognize the vital role water plays in daily lives. Additional information about Drinking Water Week, including free materials for download and celebration ideas, is available on the Drinking Water Week webpage.

Back to School – Lead in Drinking Water of America’s Schools

Milford Water Company water main installation; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard
Milford Water Company water main installation; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard

By now, everyone has heard of the water crisis that occurred in Flint, Michigan when the City switched the source of its municipal water from the Detroit system to the Flint River in an effort to cut costs. Anti-corrosion chemicals were not added to the water, allowing lead to leach from the City’s aging pipes into the water supply. In the aftermath, hundreds of children suffered lead poisoning, officials were fired, arrests were made, and lawsuits were filed. And while the Flint disaster was arguably terrible and tragic, it has brought much-needed attention to the state of our nation’s infrastructure, and the criticality of maintaining and improving it.

Lead Service Lines in the United States

There are an estimated six million lead pipes remaining in use in the United States, utilized by over 11,000 water systems that serve nearly 22 million Americans, yet there is no federal plan in place to replace these lead service lines. Why? First, it would cost an exorbitant amount of money — roughly $30 billion — to replace every single remaining lead service line, money that utilities simply do not have. With failing infrastructure, dwindling budgets, more stringent regulatory requirements, and increased demand, utilities are doing everything they can simply to maintain service and compliance. To mitigate lead in drinking water, utilities that are unable to dig up all their lead service lines are instead treating water so that it forms a coating on the interior of the pipes. This coating serves as a protective barrier between the water and the lead pipes, preventing lead from leaching into the water supply. This methodology requires extreme vigilance, as water chemistry often changes, which can cause corrosion controls to fail. Fortunately, utilities regularly test their water for lead contamination, and on February 29, 2016, the EPA changed testing regulations to more accurately reflect the amount of lead in drinking water.

Lead in the Drinking Water of Public Schools

child_drinking_water_fountainWhile utilities are working diligently to keep our nation’s water lead-free, public schools have recently come under fire, as schools from cities across the nation — including Boston, Massachusetts; Ithaca, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Tacoma, Washington — have found lead in their drinking water above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. Surprisingly, this contamination is the result of a legal loophole that many states are looking to close: schools are mandated by the EPA to be connected to a water supply that is regularly tested for lead and other contaminants; however, these utilities are not typically required to actually test the water inside the schools themselves. Considering that the average age of a school in the United States is 44 years old, it should come as no surprise that there are elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of public schools. After all, lead pipes were legal until about 30 years ago, and faucets and fixtures were allowed to contain up to 8% lead until 2014.

Lead poisoning is particularly detrimental to school-aged children, and public outcry — largely as a result of Flint’s crisis — has spurred many schools to voluntarily test their water. The findings have been shocking to parents and educators, as school across the nation, from Maine to Washington state, are reporting lead levels above the EPA’s action level. Every day, another news story crops up with a report on elevated lead in a county’s school system, and it becomes apparent that our nation has a serious problem on its hands. Just as with water utilities, the ideal solution would be to replace all the lead pipes and fixtures in our nation’s schools, but again, funding for large-scale replacement just isn’t available. Instead, many schools have turned to lead filters, which work extremely well when maintained regularly.

Looking Ahead

water_test_leadMany states have introduced legislation this year that would require public schools to regularly test their water. Bills on the table in Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Rhode Island would require regular testing, as would a New York bill that takes it one step further by providing funding for said testing. In addition, the New York bill would require schools to notify parents and to provide an alternate supply of safe drinking water to students if elevated lead levels are found. In Massachusetts, all community water systems are required by Massachusetts drinking water regulations to collect lead and copper samples from at least two schools or early education and care program facilities that they serve in each sampling period, when they collect their Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) samples. In addition, in April of 2016, it was announced that $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (MCWT) will fund cooperative efforts to help Massachusetts public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water. The funds, to be used by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), will provide technical assistance to ensure that public school districts can sample the taps and water fountains in their schools, and to identify any results that show lead and copper contamination over the action level. On a federal level, legislation has been introduced to Congress that would requires states to assist schools with testing for lead; however, it does not provide funding.

In Conclusion

As long as lead service lines and plumbing remain in use in our nation, there remains a risk of lead contamination of our drinking water. Utilities, states, and schools are doing what they can to limit this risk as much as possible, but the only fail safe solution is full replacement of all lead service lines and fixtures — a massive undertaking that will require significant capital investment that is not currently available. Therefore, it is imperative that utilities and schools continue to remain vigilant about testing for and mitigating lead in drinking water, even after the public outcry from Flint has faded.

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Back to School – Lead in Drinking Water of America's Schools

Milford Water Company water main installation; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard
Milford Water Company water main installation; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard

By now, everyone has heard of the water crisis that occurred in Flint, Michigan when the City switched the source of its municipal water from the Detroit system to the Flint River in an effort to cut costs. Anti-corrosion chemicals were not added to the water, allowing lead to leach from the City’s aging pipes into the water supply. In the aftermath, hundreds of children suffered lead poisoning, officials were fired, arrests were made, and lawsuits were filed. And while the Flint disaster was arguably terrible and tragic, it has brought much-needed attention to the state of our nation’s infrastructure, and the criticality of maintaining and improving it.
Lead Service Lines in the United States
There are an estimated six million lead pipes remaining in use in the United States, utilized by over 11,000 water systems that serve nearly 22 million Americans, yet there is no federal plan in place to replace these lead service lines. Why? First, it would cost an exorbitant amount of money — roughly $30 billion — to replace every single remaining lead service line, money that utilities simply do not have. With failing infrastructure, dwindling budgets, more stringent regulatory requirements, and increased demand, utilities are doing everything they can simply to maintain service and compliance. To mitigate lead in drinking water, utilities that are unable to dig up all their lead service lines are instead treating water so that it forms a coating on the interior of the pipes. This coating serves as a protective barrier between the water and the lead pipes, preventing lead from leaching into the water supply. This methodology requires extreme vigilance, as water chemistry often changes, which can cause corrosion controls to fail. Fortunately, utilities regularly test their water for lead contamination, and on February 29, 2016, the EPA changed testing regulations to more accurately reflect the amount of lead in drinking water.
Lead in the Drinking Water of Public Schools
child_drinking_water_fountainWhile utilities are working diligently to keep our nation’s water lead-free, public schools have recently come under fire, as schools from cities across the nation — including Boston, Massachusetts; Ithaca, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Tacoma, Washington — have found lead in their drinking water above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. Surprisingly, this contamination is the result of a legal loophole that many states are looking to close: schools are mandated by the EPA to be connected to a water supply that is regularly tested for lead and other contaminants; however, these utilities are not typically required to actually test the water inside the schools themselves. Considering that the average age of a school in the United States is 44 years old, it should come as no surprise that there are elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of public schools. After all, lead pipes were legal until about 30 years ago, and faucets and fixtures were allowed to contain up to 8% lead until 2014.
Lead poisoning is particularly detrimental to school-aged children, and public outcry — largely as a result of Flint’s crisis — has spurred many schools to voluntarily test their water. The findings have been shocking to parents and educators, as school across the nation, from Maine to Washington state, are reporting lead levels above the EPA’s action level. Every day, another news story crops up with a report on elevated lead in a county’s school system, and it becomes apparent that our nation has a serious problem on its hands. Just as with water utilities, the ideal solution would be to replace all the lead pipes and fixtures in our nation’s schools, but again, funding for large-scale replacement just isn’t available. Instead, many schools have turned to lead filters, which work extremely well when maintained regularly.
Looking Ahead
water_test_leadMany states have introduced legislation this year that would require public schools to regularly test their water. Bills on the table in Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Rhode Island would require regular testing, as would a New York bill that takes it one step further by providing funding for said testing. In addition, the New York bill would require schools to notify parents and to provide an alternate supply of safe drinking water to students if elevated lead levels are found. In Massachusetts, all community water systems are required by Massachusetts drinking water regulations to collect lead and copper samples from at least two schools or early education and care program facilities that they serve in each sampling period, when they collect their Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) samples. In addition, in April of 2016, it was announced that $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (MCWT) will fund cooperative efforts to help Massachusetts public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water. The funds, to be used by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), will provide technical assistance to ensure that public school districts can sample the taps and water fountains in their schools, and to identify any results that show lead and copper contamination over the action level. On a federal level, legislation has been introduced to Congress that would requires states to assist schools with testing for lead; however, it does not provide funding.
In Conclusion
As long as lead service lines and plumbing remain in use in our nation, there remains a risk of lead contamination of our drinking water. Utilities, states, and schools are doing what they can to limit this risk as much as possible, but the only fail safe solution is full replacement of all lead service lines and fixtures — a massive undertaking that will require significant capital investment that is not currently available. Therefore, it is imperative that utilities and schools continue to remain vigilant about testing for and mitigating lead in drinking water, even after the public outcry from Flint has faded.
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Water Crisis in the United States, Part 3: Lead in Drinking Water

24234972202_550138a446_o-300x202Part three of our four-part series on water crises in America is on lead contamination. Instances of lead in drinking water, such as the situation in Flint, Michigan, have become a hot topic in the media. Lead in drinking water is a problem that reaches far beyond the disaster in Flint, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that roughly 10 million American homes and buildings still receive water from service lines that are at least partially lead. When water has high acidity or low mineral content, it can cause these service lines to corrode and leach lead into the water supply. Without mitigation, water from lead service lines has the potential to cause adverse health effects, particularly in children.

The EPA states that, in the last three years, only nine U.S. states are reporting safe levels of lead in their drinking water. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tennessee. This means that 41 states are consistently reporting higher than acceptable levels of lead in their drinking water. The problem is not only the lead service lines connecting water mains to homes and buildings, but also the lack of proper treatment to prevent corrosion of these lead pipes.

History of Lead Pipes in the U.S.

Residents of Flint, Lead solder holding pipes together can also contaminate the water that passes through your system.
Lead solder holding pipes together can also contaminate the water that passes through your system.

The use of lead pipes for water distribution has a centuries-old history. In the U.S., installation of lead pipes on a major scale began in the late 1800s, particularly in the larger cities. At one point, more than 70% of cities with populations greater than 30,000 used lead water lines. Lead pipes had two significant advantages over iron: they lasted almost twice as long and they were malleable enough to easily bend around existing structures. Of course, now we see the health risks associated with lead, and water systems across the country have taken steps to eliminate lead pipes in their distribution systems. Water companies and municipalities now must decide whether to replace all the lead pipe in their drinking water system, including home service lines on private property, or continue to add corrosion-control chemicals at the plant to prevent leaching of lead into the water supply.

Utilities and the Government Take Action

Water companies and municipalities across the country are working diligently to get lead out of our drinking water. Since replacing all of our nation’s lead piping may take over 20 years, utilities have found a short term solution to control the amount of lead in their drinking water. They are focusing on the treatment process and monitoring what makes up the drinking water. Introducing orthophosphates to the water supply and flushing all the standing water creates a scale of protective coating on the interior surfaces of lead pipes, reducing corrosion. This limits the amount of lead that leaches into the water and offers a short term solution as we figure out how to permanently replace all lead pipes from our water distribution systems.

Limescale-in-pipe-300x259
Orthophosphates added to treated drinking water has created a protective coating on the interior surface of this lead pipe.

In Wisconsin, the Madison Water Utility has become a national model for cities struggling with lead in their drinking water. They are the first major utility in the nation to demonstrate that a full replacement of both the public and the private portions of lead service lines is possible. This involved working with residents to remove lead service lines from their homes and nearby property. The project started in 2001 and has provided safe drinking water to 5,600 property owners. The plan, which was very controversial at the time, is now hailed as a model and has spurred other utilities into action. For example, Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) implemented a program that offers a credit of up to $2,000 and interest-free loans to assist homeowners who are willing to remove lead pipes on their property. BWSC also has a searchable online database for homeowners to see if their property has a lead service line.  Also, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) announced earlier this year that it will provide $100 million to its member water communities to fully replace lead service lines, including residential lines. These utilities are shining examples of the many organizations taking a long term approach to this national crisis.

Recent news reports of lead in drinking water and the controversy surrounding testing methodologies have acted as a catalyst for public schools across the country to test their water. Unfortunately, many of these tests indicate high, potentially dangerous, levels of lead concentrations in public drinking fountains, sparking outcry from parents and prompting a series of public meetings. In response, the EPA changed lead testing regulations on February 29, 2016 and now require utilities to use wide mouth bottles, conduct no pre-stagnation flush, and to run faucets at typical flow rates when testing for lead — precisely the opposite of how testing had previously been conducted. While many people have been quick to blame utilities for lead in their drinking water and have even gone so far to suggest that utilities have been practicing testing “cheats,” they were in actuality following protocol issued by EPA.

The EPA is also considering changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s rules regarding lead, and an advisory panel has proposed a more proactive approach to replacing lead pipes. The proposal would encourage public water systems to replace lead pipes versus waiting for lead levels to spike to take action. This plan involves substantial increases in funding to water companies and municipalities for the replacement of lead pipes in both the public and the private portions of lead service lines, including residential lines. With this additional funding, water utilities across the country will be able to set goals for a permanent solution to our nation’s lead crisis. Admittedly, we have a long road ahead of us as many cities simply do not know the exact number or location of lead pipes in their system. Add to that the cost and person power required to replace our nation’s lead service lines, and it becomes apparent that a 100% lead-free infrastructure is still many years away.

What Can You Do?

When water sits stagnant in lead service lines for even a few hours, it picks up lead from the pipe, which can make using your faucet hazardous. Find out if your home is serviced by lead service lines by calling your local water department. This is especially important to homes built prior to 1980. If your home still has lead service lines, you can reduce the risk of lead contamination in your drinking water by taking some simple steps:

  • Call your State Department of Public Health for health information, or visit their website.
  • Run tap water until after the water feels cold. Flushing pipes in this way before use assures that you are not drinking water that has been sitting stagnant in pipes.
  • Never use hot water from the faucet for drinking or cooking, especially when making baby formula or food for small children. Hot water from your faucet has a higher chance of containing traces of lead. Instead, use cold water and heat it on the stove or in the microwave.

In Conclusion

Hands_in_Water_faucet-300x200

The good news is that lead contaminated water crises like the situation in Flint, Michigan have called for stricter regulations and replacement of nearly six million lead service lines nationwide. The not so good news is that we still have a long way to go to completely remove all lead in our water systems. Nearly all homes built prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes, and some major U.S. cities still have 100 percent lead piping that delivers water from the utilities to homes and businesses. Replacing lead service lines is the safest way to prevent lead contamination, and public and private water companies must work together with state and national organizations to replace lead pipes in all of our water distribution systems. Solving our lead contamination crisis will benefit everyone if we work together for a permanent solution. After all, everyone deserves safe drinking water.
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