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I'll Take My Water Un-leaded

Most of us, thank goodness, don't get sick right away when we drink tap water. But it's the long-term effects of very small amounts of contaminants that are troubling.
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You've been drinking tap water your whole life and you're fine, right? Well maybe. Did you know that your crystal clear tap water may contain perchlorate (rocket fuel!), arsenic, endocrine disruptors and even pharmaceutical residues? With any contaminant, there are two kinds of possible effects: acute and chronic. Most of us, thank goodness, don't get sick right away when we drink tap water. But it's the long-term effects of very small amounts of contaminants that are troubling.

There's Lead in My Water?

We know it's toxic. It was banned from paint years ago and from toys more recently. And it's regulated by the EPA in water too, but the problem is that lead doesn't usually come from the water source itself. Rather, it enters your drinking water through the plumbing system. The EPA lists health risks for children as delays in physical or mental development with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. In adults, they identify kidney problems and high blood pressure. Can you imagine how many Americans are taking blood pressure medications when the cause may be related to the water they're drinking?

How exactly does lead get into your tap water at home? Lead pipes and solder are still common in older homes. Water in the plumbing system can dissolve, so when it leaches, you can't help but end up with lead in your drinking water. When I first began researching this subject, it didn't dawn on me that household faucets may also be a significant source of lead contamination. How is that possible, you ask? Chrome-plated faucets are usually made from brass, and brass contains up to 8 percent lead. The contamination can occur as soon as the water comes in contact with the brass.

Bottled Water is Not the Answer

More than one-third of all Americans drink bottled water regularly. Sadly, it's often not what it appears. Advertising campaigns, complete with pictures of snow-capped mountains and pristine streams, make it seem so pure and healthy. But testing by the Environmental Working Group found that 10 popular brands of bottled water purchased from stores contained 38 chemical pollutants, including disinfection byproducts, fertilizer residue and pain medication.

And to make matters worse, bottled water is costly and wasteful. According to Food and Water Watch, Americans spent $10.6 billion on bottled water in 2009 and paid up to 1,000 times the cost of tap water. And almost half of all bottled water came from municipal tap water supplies.

Tapping Out on Lead

So if bottled water is out, we're back to good old tap water. Is it possible to make your drinking water safer without going to extremes? Yes, it sure is. Here are a few tips to reduce lead in your water:

  • Run the tap until it's cold before drinking it, especially if the water has been standing in the pipes overnight. You can use the first few cups of water for cleaning or watering plants.

  • Avoid using hot water for cooking, drinking, or mixing your baby's formula since it's more likely to leach lead from pipes and solder.
  • Install a water filtration system. It's safer and much more cost efficient in the long run. Use EWG's Walter Filter Buying Guide.
  • Have a plumber check your plumbing for lead-based pipes and solder and use only lead-free materials in repairs.
  • Contact your state lead program to see about having your water tested, especially following plumbing work.
  • Request a free report on your drinking water from your local water provider.
  • Consider submitting a sample of your water to an analytical lab to get the scoop on what contaminants are really in your water (for a fee).
  • Get yourself a glass or stainless steel water bottle so you can take clean, filtered tap water with you on the go. And when you're done topping off your reusable bottle, take action by signing the pledge to "Take Back the Tap."

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