Lead in Drinking Water

Health Effects

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious health problems, especially for infants, children, and pregnant women. Too much lead in the body can damage the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells.

Young children’s bodies are developing, which makes them more sensitive to lead. Children also absorb lead more easily than adults. Lead in a child’s body can slow down growth, make it hard to learn, and cause behavior problems. A fetus can be harmed by a woman’s exposure to lead before and during pregnancy.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set an Action Level for lead at 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of drinking water.

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Lead gets in drinking water from lead or galvanized iron pipes and fittings, lead solder, and brass or chrome fixtures. Lead can be found in public and private water systems and in household plumbing.

Hot water dissolves lead more easily than cold water. This means that only cold flushed water should be used for preparing infant food or formula or for cooking.

Lead pipes were commonly used for drinking water until the 1940s. Vermont banned lead pipe and fittings in the early 1970s. Vermont Plumbing Rules banned lead solder in 1988 and allow only faucets and fittings that meet NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) standards for lead.

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You cannot see, smell, or taste lead in your water. You need to have a water sample analyzed by a certified laboratory to find out if your water contains lead.

First Draw: A first draw sample is often taken first thing in the morning when the tap has not been turned on through the night. Water in a first draw sample has been sitting in the plumbing inside the house either overnight or for at least six hours.

Flush: A flush sample is taken after letting the cold water run until the water is as cold as it gets. This may be 15-30 seconds or it may be several minutes depending on the house. Water in a flush sample is coming from the pipe outside the house and has not been sitting in the plumbing inside the house.

Water in a first draw sample is more likely to contain lead than water in a flush sample. Water that has sat in the plumbing inside the house is warmer and has had the opportunity to take in lead if lead is present in solder, fixtures, or fittings.

If the lead level in a flush sample is at or above 0.015 mg/l, do not use the water for drinking or food preparation.

The Department of Health Laboratory tests water for lead. Call 802-863-7335 or 1-800-660-9997 to arrange for the test or to receive a list of other certified labs.

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Flushing out the plumbing will reduce the lead level in most cases. The routine of letting water run to get the lead out should be done each morning and if the water has sat idle for more than six hours.

Other household water uses such as showering or toilet flushing will also help clear standing water from plumbing. Keep in mind that you will still need to run individual faucets for a short time before using them for cooking and drinking water. You may want to keep a container of drinking water in your refrigerator, so that the water does not have to be run every time you need it.

Other ways to reduce lead from drinking water include:

Sediment filters do not remove lead.

If you are on a public water system, the supplier or municipality can tell you what efforts have been made to decrease overall lead levels. For public water systems, call the Water Supply Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation at 241-3400 or 1-800-823-6500.

Additional Information

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