Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is commonly used to make everyday products such as batteries and piping. Lead pipes are still quite prevalent in household plumbing systems and water distribution networks, especially as service pipes - the pipe that connects the street water main to the building or customer. Initially, lead was selected over other metals due to its durability and malleability. However, now we know that lead is extremely toxic to human health and should never be present in drinking water.
Lead can enter into the water system through pollution, such as dumping lead paint cans, or it can leach into the water if it travels through a corroded lead service line. Utilities are required to implement and maintain corrosion control plans in order to fully comply with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which is governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, if corrosion control is not maintained or properly monitored, the lead scales can destabilize and leach lead into the water. Currently, the LCR has established a lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Comparatively, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established an elevated blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).
When lead-contaminated water is consumed, the lead in the water enters one’s bloodstream and causes an elevated blood lead level, which can result in lead poisoning. Since lead is a neurotoxin, can have a detrimental effect on the many developmental processes, such as behavior, intelligence, and overall life achievement.
According to the CDC, children, and infants are at a higher risk to experience the adverse effects of lead exposure due to the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size. Consequently, children who ingest water-soluble lead can absorb 40% to 50% compared with 3% to 10% for adults. Infants who are fed with reconstituted formula mixed with tap water - a liquid or powdered concentrate that is mixed with water - are at the greatest risk for lead in water.
To learn more about the State of Michigan’s current roadmap for lead intervention, please review the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board’s “Roadmap to Eliminating Child Lead Exposure”.