Other Sources of Lead

Your children may encounter lead in tap water and lead in outdoor soils. These sources don't usually produce exposures as high as those that can be caused by lead paint in your home, but they do add to your child's total lead exposure. In some cases of lead poisoning, tap water or outdoor soils may be an important source of lead exposure.

Lead can get into tap water by leaching out of plumbing materials that contain lead, such as pipes and fixtures. Lead piping was widely used in the past, especially in older cities, and many older buildings may still have some lead pipes or lead service lines connecting them to water mains. These kinds of plumbing materials continue to leach lead into tap water.

Because lead solder can produce very high levels of lead contamination in tap water, the use of lead solder on copper piping was banned in New York State in 1985 and nationally in 1986. The amount of lead that leaches out of solder decreases over time, and in 1993 the EPA reported that lead solder that was installed before 1982 was generally not still leaching lead into tap water. However, lead solder is still readily available for other uses, and some "do-it-yourself-ers" unaware of the ban may have continued to use lead solder in plumbing repairs after the ban went into effect.

Your landlord may be able to tell you if and when any lead plumbing materials have been used in your building, and whether the tap water has ever been tested for lead. However, landlords are not required to identify or replace lead plumbing materials or to have tap water tested in rental units.

The longer water stands in contact with lead-containing plumbing materials, the higher the lead level in the water becomes. This is why the first water drawn out of the tap each morning, after the water has stood in the pipes all night, is usually the most contaminated. If the tap has not been used for several hours, you can minimize the amount of lead in the water by first flushing the pipes. Run the cold water for at least a minute or two, or until it runs as cold as it will get. You should use only cold, fully flushed tap water for cooking, drinking and baby formula preparation. Don't use hot tap water, because it can dissolve much more lead out of lead plumbing materials than cold water does, even after you have flushed the pipes. You may find it easiest to keep a large bottle or two of cold, fully flushed tap water in the refrigerator for cooking, drinking and formula preparation.

You can have your tap water tested yourself to find out if it contains elevated lead levels. See page 12 to request a free tap water test in New York City, and to obtain a list of independent testing labs that are certified to test drinking water samples for lead. Independent testing labs charge fees currently ranging from under $20 to about $50 per sample. You should have at least two samples tested: one taken from the tap the first thing in the morning, after the water has stood in the pipes overnight, and one taken after you have fully flushed the pipes.

If testing shows that the lead in a fully flushed tap water sample is higher than 15 micrograms per liter23 (ug/l, sometimes reported as parts per billion, or ppb), the EPA advises that you consider using bottled water for cooking, drinking and formula preparation. Another option would be to install a water filtering device at your tap that is specifically designed to remove lead. Such devices must be selected carefully and replaced periodically.

Outdoor soils in high-traffic urban areas, as well as along heavily travelled highways and parkways, may have been contaminated with lead from auto exhaust emissions during the time when leaded gasoline was still in widespread use (The amount of lead used in gasoline declined steadily between 1976 and 1980, and lead has now been virtually eliminated from gasoline). Contaminated areas may include yards, lawns, playgrounds and parks where young children play.

The soils around houses and buildings whose exteriors were painted with lead paint may also be contaminated from the weathering and flaking of the outside paint, or from removal of old paint prior to routine repainting. Elevated lead levels in soil may also be related to industrial emissions, or even former use of the land for certain agricultural purposes, since some pesticides used in the past contained lead.

You can reduce your children's exposure to lead in soil if you don't allow them to play or dig in outdoor soils that may be contaminated with lead. Lead- contaminated soil may also be blown or get tracked into your home. The same cleaning methods recommended to control household dust from lead paint can control lead- contaminated soil and dust that enters your home from outside. You can also reduce the amount of contaminated soil and dust that gets tracked into your home by putting a dust mat outside your door and cleaning it regularly.