Lead Water Test: Learn About Testing for Lead in Water

Author: Jason Hollow - Published: 2021/11/11 - Updated: 2021/11/24

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Unlike some other heavy metals, you can’t detect lead in water using your senses.

That’s really problematic, because lead in water can cause various health issues, and not knowing about its presence makes it all risky.

Thankfully, not every domestic water supply in America is contaminated with lead. But you can’t say that for sure without properly conducting a water test.

Thus, if you are ready, let’s explore what these tests are. Moreover, if you want you will learn about fantastic and efficient water filter options that can help you remove lead from your water supply.

So, here is our guide on how to test for lead in water.

When to Conduct Lead Testing

city of flint water plant

Interestingly, lead can enter your water through a chemical reaction between different plumbing materials. This means having pipes made of lead in your home increases the chance of finding the element in your drinking water. Lead service lines from the water utility to your place are another factor.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t take the plunge of testing our drinking water unless it smells, tastes or looks terrible. This is typical human behavior that if something isn’t visible and shows no other signs of presence, it probably isn’t there.

The same is the case with lead contamination. Since the water appears clean, we assume all is fine. If you receive your water from a public system, the supplier certainly has treated and filtered it properly before sending it your way…

What we fail to realize is many filtration systems lack efficiency towards removing all the various water contaminants at scale. And, again, there is a high chance of downstream contamination as the water flows towards your house.

The water board might be perfect and helpful in every case. But it is imperative to note that the water you’re using may have to flow through several miles of pipe before it reaches its destination. The journey is long, and that’s why it is essential to conduct testing.

Below is a summary of the reasons why and when you should get your water tested for lead.

Lead Service Lines

Do you know that despite the Congress’ ban on lead pipes in 1986, many lead service lines are still operational underground? This implies that around nine million families in America drink water that passes through these types of pipes.

Besides, as per a study[1], a minimum of 15 million and a maximum of 22 million Americans consume water with lead every day. Isn’t that shocking?

Homes Built Before 1986

Lead pipes were banned in 1986. But if you live in a house built before that, there is a high chance that you are currently drinking a glass of lead-contaminated water.

Moreover, it was only after 2014; the government changed the legal limit of using lead for pipes from 8% to 0.25%.[2]

The numbers above clearly reflect the need for water testing as the first step to eliminate lead from your water. But since lead doesn’t show its presence easily, you have to trust your gut feeling and take this step on your own.

Other Potential Lead Contamination Sources

Below are some other ways in which your water supply may face lead contamination:

  • Lead goosenecks: There are a few short pipe segments that connect your main water line with the service line. Unfortunately, these segments may contain lead which then can mix with the water flowing towards your house.
  • Copper pipes containing lead solder: If your house is old yet has copper instead of lead pipes, you might still not be safe from lead contamination. It is because copper pipes usually feature lead solder with a high percentage of lead.
  • Galvanized pipes: These pipes were a perfect substitute for lead pipes when the latter were first banned in 1986. Made with solid steel and sturdy zinc coating, these pipes are usually secure from rust and corrosion.

But shockingly, when the zinc wears off, galvanized pipes become as dangerous as lead ones. Moreover, lead can easily stick to the rusty pipes’ surface and mix with the water, thus contaminating it.

How to Test for Lead in Water

How to Test for Lead in Water thumbnail

The above facts might have scared you, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is that you can easily test your water supply for lead in many different ways.

The primary and most successful testing methods are:

Contact Water Supplier

Have you ever come across a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR)? Water utilities have to share this report with their users to fulfill their obligations defined by the EPA.

However, if your water supplier doesn’t send you this report via mail, you can always contact them or get it online.

So, what does the Consumer Confidence Report cover? First, this document highlights the source and quality of your drinking water. In addition, it also reports the list and concentrations of contaminants that were recently present.

If you want to check the report for lead contamination, you need to understand the figures mentioned. For instance, if the report shows lead levels above the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), this is a dangerous sign.

That said, even with a smaller quantity of lead in your water, your health is at risk. That’s because lead accumulates in your body when consumed for a long time.

Bottom line: If your water report shows any signs of lead, it’s time to act.

Advantages

  • You don’t have to pay for the report, and in most cases, it might be attached to your last water bill.
  • This report is the analysis of all water testing conducted in accordance with EPA standards.

Disadvantages

  • The report doesn’t consider any contaminants that might be present in your own plumbing system.
  • You can’t entirely trust last year’s report because the chemistry of your water might have changed by now. Water quality often changes throughout the year, and so does the level of contaminants present.

Find a Certified Lab for Testing

Since it isn’t right to entirely rely on your last year’s CCR, the best way to test your water, in our opinion, is to find a certified lab and then send them your water sample. However, before hiring a lab for this job, make sure that it is certified.

Below we have explained how you can find a suitable lab for this task:

  1. Get in touch with the EPA for a list of certified labs available in your area.
  2. Once found, call the lab and ask them for a water container to keep your sample and confirm the suitable quantity of water required to carry out this test.
  3. Also, ask the right time and procedure to conduct the sampling. Usually, the best time to take a water sample is early in the morning. Alternatively, you can also collect water for a sample from an outlet at least 6 hours after its last usage.
  4. To gain the best results, take lots of samples at varying intervals.
  5. Lastly, send these samples to your chosen lab and then wait for the final results.

Personally, we like to work with Tap Score. They’ve developed a water test specifically for lead.

Advantages

  • This method generates accurate results because the procedures are all conducted according to the standards set by the EPA.
  • A test conducted through a lab highlights the presence of lead and shows its concentration in the report. This information then helps you select the most efficient filtration system to remove lead from your water supply.
  • You can also have your water tested for other stuff.

Disadvantages

  • Lab testing is more expensive.
  • If you choose this method, be prepared to spend some time conducting the test properly.
  • Some labs deliver tests within ten days. But many take longer. If the lab in your area is always busy and running out of staff, expect to receive your report quite late.

Young woman in the kitchen drinking water

Use a Home Lead Test Kit

If you prefer to do things on your own, the best way to test water for lead is through test kits. You can use these at home, and they don’t cost too much either. Moreover, they are readily available in most stores.

A lead test kit would work best if you are only worried about lead contamination. A reasonable price is $20 to $50. The usage is simple:

  1. Dip a test strip in a small container of water.
  2. If the strip changes color, it means that there is a lead problem. However, if it only shows a faint line, the water is lead-free.

You can also choose a send-away kit worth around $250 to get a complete report on any other contaminants present in your water. Make sure to conduct these water tests at least 6 hours after the last water usage.

Advantages

  • DIY kits are hassle-free.
  • They are affordable and much cheaper than lab tests.
  • Not all, but most kits produce reliable results.

Disadvantages

  • Unfortunately, such kits may not report the exact level of lead concentration. They only show its presence or absence.

Get a Water Test from a Local Expert/Company

While the availability of a local water expert differs in every area, if you know of a service that offers free water testing, give it a try. Most famous water brands also offer free testing that can help detect the contamination level in your water.

Advantages

  • You can trust the water experts to test the water and guide you on the best solution to deal with any level of lead contamination.
  • Experts offer quick and free water testing procedures.

Disadvantages

  • If you opt for a water brand’s testing facility, they may produce exaggerated results and convince you to buy their bottled water instead.
  • Such companies often take your details before conducting any testing. Some people may not feel comfortable sharing this information.

Inspect Your Plumbing System

If you ask us, it’s imperative to check your plumbing system and all the connecting components for lead once. If some pipes require replacements, don’t delay the process if possible.

How to inspect a plumbing system? You should test different pipes for their material. For instance, if there is a black or grey metal pipe in your plumbing system, you can conduct the following experiment:

Scratch it using a screwdriver or a key. If, after scratching, you see silver color the pipe has a lead structure.

Moreover, you can also try to attach a magnet to the pipe’s surface. If the magnet doesn’t stick, the pipe may have lead (lead isn’t magnetic).

Many of you might feel confused doing this. If you do, contact a plumbing expert to help you out. It will add additional cost, but at least you will have certainty.

home plumbing system with water heater and pressure tank

Advantages

  • The experiments help to determine the presence of lead plumbing quickly and easily.
  • It’s free.

Disadvantages

  • It won’t help you determine the exact concentration of lead in your water.
  • Moreover, except for lead, it will not detect any other contaminant ready to ruin your drinking water.
  • It can be tough to conduct the tests on connecting pipes.

What About Private Well Water?

If you use a private well, you could be lucky. Why? Since there is no vast distribution network and lead only rarely appears in water naturally, you may be safe from hazardous contamination.

However, fixtures, solder and all other parts of your home plumbing are still potential lead sources. Besides, some wells have old pumps containing lead which can conveniently mix with your water.

Therefore, it is imperative to test your water even if you’re on well water and replace any lead elements if need be.

What’s more, you alone are responsible for the water and its quality present in your well, and hence, you should regularly perform testing to determine the presence of pollutants – metals, microorganisms, etc.

I Found Lead in My Water, What Now?

If your water tests positive for lead, take the following actions:

Eliminating Any Lead Sources

Your first action should always be to remove all lead sources and thereby eliminate the chance of lead contamination altogether.

However, keep in mind that the replacement of such sources can be expensive and time-consuming. So, if you do not have enough funds or time to spare, you can choose to buy a compatible water filter.

Buying a Lead Water Filter

Many water filters can reduce the levels of lead in your water. But it is essential to choose the right filter media and system to do the job well. Here are the 4 types you can go for:

  • Reverse osmosis systems
  • KDF filters
  • Catalytic or activated carbon filters
  • Cationic exchange resin filters

Before you buy a water filter, always check its NSF certifications. All filters designed to reduce lead levels should meet the requirements mentioned in NSF standard 53 or 58. Filters that are NSF standard 53/58-certified have the ability to remove harmful contaminants like lead from unfiltered water.

Keep in mind, though, that factors like lead concentration and the presence of other contaminants can affect the removal process.

For instance, if the lead concentration is too high, an activated carbon filter may reach its filtration capacity quite soon. In that case, frequent replacements are mandatory. Similarly, if your water holds too many different contaminants, there could be less space in the filter to target each one of those.

At the end of the day, we can’t emphasize enough that a water test is essential before you buy a water filter. By getting a complete water analysis done, you will be better positioned to choose an effective lead water filter for your home.

Bottled Water

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bottled water must not have lead levels higher than 5 ppb. Which means drinking bottled water can lower your lead exposure.

However, consuming bottled water regularly puts another burden on the environment. On the one hand, there’s plastic waste. On the other hand, there’re additional CO2 emissions contributing to climate change.

Moreover, bottled water is so much more expensive than tap water – almost 300 times.[3]

And if that wasn’t enough, we have more bad news. Although bottled water may have lower lead levels, it often contains high levels of plastic toxins such as BPA.

In summary, we would suggest you consider bottled water as the very last option. And if possible, try to avoid it in every way.

Bottles of water

More Ways to Lower Your Lead Exposure

Lastly, remember these 2 ways in which you can further reduce your lead exposure:

  1. Every morning flush some water from your taps before consuming it. If you worry about wastage, use the water to clean dishes or pour it over your plants.
  2. Did you know that hot water dissolves higher levels of lead than cold water? Therefore, don’t use hot water straight from your faucet for drinking or cooking.

How Can Lead Affect Your Health?

Regardless of its concentration, lead isn’t a safe for human consumption at all. It is bio-cumulative in nature which means it accumulates in your body over time. So even under low lead exposure, the stored lead can turn out fatal in the long run.

Thereby, lead is particularly harmful to children. It can lead to health issues such as:

  • Brain and nervous system damage
  • Learning problems
  • Stunted growth
  • Behavioral issues
  • Lower I.Q.
  • Speech and hearing issues

Of course, adults are safe either. With consistent lead exposure you may experience:

  • High blood pressure
  • Poor kidney function
  • Reproductive issues
  • Cardiovascular problems

Conclusion

You need to test your water for lead if you’re part of a public water supply using lead service lines or if you have lead plumbing in your own home.

In case of well water, an old well pump can often be the source of lead contamination.

There are different ways for how to test water for lead. Each has pros and cons.

The easiest way is to simply contact your water supplier and ask for the latest lead test results. However, this approach does not take into account contamination that might happen while the water flows from the utility to your place.

Thus, we recommend paying a certified laboratory to test a sample of the water in your home.

You could also do your own testing with the help of a lead test kit.

Local experts/companies are your last option.

In case you find lead, you should remove the source as soon as possible. Alternatively, install a lead water filter.

Further Reading

Resources

Meet Jason Hollow

Jason Hollow Jason is the founder of Water Masterz and head of content creation. After six years in the industry, he has tremendous knowledge and first-hand experience on all things related to water treatment.

His credo: Not a single American should have to drink unhealthy water at home.

Get in Touch with Jason

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