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How to remove lead from water

How to remove lead from water - article image
Graeme Leighfield

Finding lead in your water is a rare occurrence in Ireland, as lead pipes were replaced with copper in the 1970s. There are no lead water mains left in Ireland, though there are still some lead pipes in the public network. In this article we tackle the issue in-depth, explaining how lead may enter our water supplies, what effect it can have on your health, and what you should do if you become concerned about the potential of lead contaminating your home or business building's tap water.

Quick Facts

  • Lead contamination can occur due to corrosion of old pipes that supply drinking water to buildings
  • Although lead piping is rare across Ireland, some pipes are fitted with lead-based solders
  • Consuming levels of lead above 0.01 mg/litre can has a negative effect on your health
  • Lead can be removed from water through an activated carbon filter, reverse osmosis or distillation
  • • If you find lead in your drinking water, you should contact your local authority as soon as possible

Why does my tap water contain lead?

If your household our workplace was built before 1970, there is a chance that your water may be supplied through lead pipework.

However, problems associated with lead contamination in drinking water do still occur, either where there is corrosion of lead piping or pipes which have been fitted with lead solder. This can be a problem particularly where water has been held within a space over a course of several hours. This means that lead contaminations are at their most dangerous in the morning or after a building has been unused for a period of time, such as business offices over a weekend.

Lead and your health

Below 0.01 mg per litre lead is considered safe to consume. If your tap water has levels higher than this, then your water company is legally obliged to replace the pipes in your building. This is because consumption of lead at levels just above the recommended amount has been linked to several severe health problems such as the slowing of mental and physical development in young children.

Even more concerning is that if you consume lead at higher levels over a long period of time it is known to cause significant damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys, and even with only short term exposure it can lead to elevated blood pressure levels.

What should you do if you discover lead in your water?

How can lead be filtered?

Lead can be filtered through on of three approaches:

1.Activated carbon filters:

Activated Carbon filters remove a wide range of contaminants which out the need for electricity or a high degree of water pressure.

2.Reverse osmosis:

During reverse osmosis, water passes through a very fine filter which larger molecules such as viruses and heavy metals cannot pass though. Strong water pressure is need for this method of lead removal as the water needs to be forced through the filter.

3. Distillation:

This method can be used to remove lead as water is evaporated and the condensed in a new container, leaving behind lead and killing bacteria. However, this method is very energy intensive due to the need to heat the water to boiling.

Other ways to reduce your exposure to lead:

1. Running the tap:

Whilst this isn’t a solution to the problem, running your tap will allow the water which has been contaminated with lead to run out, reducing your risk of harmful exposure. If you have lead piping, it is recommended you run your tap for 3-5 minutes. If you do not have a lead service line, running your tap for 30-60 seconds is long enough.

2. Using cold water:

Cold water is safer than hot water as it releases less lead from the pipes. Use cold water for drinking and cooking.

Does boiling water remove lead?

No, boiling does not remove lead and may increase the levels of lead in your water. Use one of the methods above to remove lead from your water supply.

The problem with this contaminant is that you can’t see, taste, or smell lead within your water. Indicators you can look out for include whether your building is using an old lead pipe systems or that the system supplying water is in poor condition.

If you have reason to believe this is the case at home or at work then you should contact your water supplier or local authority immediately.