Is there lead in my water? How do I know if my water is safe to drink?

The water quality in Allegheny County is improving. Still, if there is lead in your water or home, you’ll want to take it seriously. Find out how to assess and reduce your risk.

 

Recently, the lead levels in Pittsburgh water tested at one of the lowest levels in more than two decades.That said, individual households or neighborhoods may still have issues. Most of the lead in people’s water supply today comes from location-specific sources, such as lead service lines running from a house to the water main, lead pipes (more likely in houses built before 1986), lead soldering on pipes or brass faucets. Over time, water corrodes the metal, and the lead seeps into the water. 

These sources of lead could contaminate your home’s water, even if the overall water in your area is safe. As Pittsburgh’s water equity task force has shown, such problems disproportionately affect people of color and residents of low-income neighborhoods, who are more likely to live in areas with underfunded or outdated infrastructure. 

It’s also worth noting that water isn’t the top cause of lead poisoning in Allegheny County (even if it’s the first one that comes to mind for most people). According to recent Allegheny County Health Department inspections, paint and dust are bigger threats. With that in mind, this guide includes information about testing for lead in these other sources, too.

If you detect lead in your home, take it seriously. Lead is a neurotoxin that can be dangerous even in small amounts. Elevated lead levels in children can cause problems with brain and nervous system development, behavior, learning, speech and hearing. Prolonged exposure in adults can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and fertility issues, plus short-term symptoms like nausea and memory loss or distractibility. 

How do I figure out if there’s lead in my house or water?

If you’re concerned about your lead exposure, you might opt for a full home lead risk assessment. This assessment, performed by professionals, includes tests of your paint, dust and soil — the most common sources of lead exposure — as well as your water, if that seems like a risk factor in your case. 

 

Household sources of lead include more than just water. Other common sources of exposure include paint, dust and soil. Source: epa.gov

As part of the local “Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh” initiative, coordinated by the nonprofit Women for a Healthy Environment, you could be eligible for a free or reduced-cost lead risk assessment.  Fill out this form to register.

The Allegheny County Health Department also provides some free resources to qualifying households. These resources include blood lead level testing for children who are uninsured or underinsured and free full home lead assessments for households with children whose blood lead levels are elevated by the Center for Disease Control’s standards (above 5 ppb). The ACHD’s “Get Ahead of Lead” resource list contains more information and instructions for who to contact. 

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