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.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week—Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future

lead-free-kids-for-a-healthy-futureOctober 23-29 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2016. Established in 1999 by the U.S. Senate, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (NLPPW) occurs every year during the last week in October and is now supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the World Health Organization (WHO).  This year’s NLPPW theme of “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future” underscores the importance of protecting our future by educating the public about the dangers and sources of lead poisoning and what can be done to prevent it. While lead-based paint is arguably the most common and hazardous source of lead exposure for young children, lead-contaminated drinking water has recently come under heavy scrutiny as an additional and very serious source of lead poisoning.

Siddhartha Roy / FlintWaterStudy.org
Siddhartha Roy / FlintWaterStudy.org

Lead contamination in drinking water has long been a problem, but it is now receiving the attention it deserves as a direct result of the catastrophe that took place in Flint, Michigan earlier this year. When Flint switched its water supply from Detroit to the Flint River, proper corrosion control measures were not implemented. The river water corroded old lead pipes, leaching lead into the drinking water. As a result, it is estimated that six to twelve thousand Flint children have been exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water. But they are not alone. In the United States, over 500,000 children have elevated lead levels in their blood, and it is estimated that between seven and ten million American homes still receive their drinking water from lead service lines. In addition, many homes constructed prior to 1986 also have lead in their faucets, fixtures, and solder.

While elevated lead levels in the blood stream cause health issues at any age, these problems are most significant in young children under the age of six whose brains are still developing. Some of the health concerns associated with lead exposure are as follows:

  • Decreased IQ
  • Slowed growth
  • Inability to pay attention, hyperactivity, and ADHD
  • Learning disabilities and developmental delay
  • Anemia
  • Tooth decay
  • Decreased bone and muscle growth and poor muscle condition
  • Damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing
  • Speech and language problems

lead_spotlight2Lead in drinking water cannot be detected through taste or smell, and the only way to know for certain if your drinking water has elevated lead levels is to have your water professionally tested. Typically, lead pipes are found in homes that were built prior to 1986 and in older cities. Older homes with private wells are also at risk of having lead in drinking water. While complete removal of all lead service lines, pipes, faucets, and fixtures is the most effective way to bring lead to safe levels in drinking water, it can also be prohibitively expensive. Therefore, the EPA has recommended the following steps to reduce lead in your drinking water:

  • Call your water provider to learn about the lead levels in your system’s drinking water, and to find out if the pipe that connects your home to the water main (e.g. the service line) is made from lead.
  • Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula.
  • Remember, boiling water does not remove lead from water.
  • Run water for 30 seconds to two minutes before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.
  • Regularly clean your faucet’s screen (also known as an aerator).
  • If you use a filter certified to remove lead, don’t forget to read the directions to learn when to change the cartridge. Using a filter after it has expired can make it less effective at removing lead.

During NLPPW, many participating communities and organizations offer educational and awareness events as well as free blood tests. For information on NLPPW events, contact your local health department, which can be found here. While lead poisoning is a serious concern for everyone, young children are most at risk, which is why NLPPW 2016 is focusing on our nation’s children. Through public education, investing in infrastructure, and best practices, together we can ensure that our nation has “Lead Free Kids for a Healthy Future.”

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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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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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