Former EPA Official Cites Elevated Lead Levels

Dec. 28, 2000
According to Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR) mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and recently filed by municipalities nationwide, millions of Americans may be consuming higher than acceptable levels of lead when they turn on their taps.

"We should all be concerned about lead contamination in our drinking water supplies," says James Elder, former director of the EPA's office of groundwater and drinking water. "Not only because of its serious health effects, but also because you can't see, smell or even taste lead in drinking water."

Elder went on to identify those cities that had what he considers high lead levels in their drinking water.

1. Portland, ME (43 ppb)*

2. Boston, MA (34 ppb)*

3. Seattle, WA (19.3 ppb)*

4. Newark, NJ (18.3 ppb)*

5. New York, NY (16 ppb)*

6. Madison, WI (16 ppb)*

7. Carson City, NV (14 ppb)

8. Milwaukee, WI (14 ppb)

9. Denver, CO (12 ppb)

10. Cincinnati, OH (11 ppb)

Source: Most recent Consumer Confidence Report findings released by cities' water suppliers (state capitals and 200,000+ population reviewed).

*Exceed the EPA's established 15 parts per billion (ppb) action level for lead.

In its efforts to reach its goal of zero lead contamination in drinking water supplies, the EPA established a 15 ppb action level for lead. Should a municipality exceed these levels, government officials are required to implement a plan of action to reduce them.

"Municipalities with lead levels above 15 ppb may be given more than twenty years to improve the situation," says Elder. "Your supplier can only do so much to protect you from lead contamination. A lot of it depends on the plumbing inside of your own home. That's why it's critical for people to be informed and take responsibility."

Lead contamination occurs when water rests in pipes and faucets for several hours or longer, allowing the soft metal to leach into the water. Homes or apartments built before 1986 are more likely to have lead plumbing fixtures. After 1986, the Safe Drinking Water Act required the use of lead-free pipe, solder and flux in the installation or repair of plumbing systems.

"Just because your hometown may not test above the action level doesn't mean you shouldn't be concerned about lead contamination," says Elder. "It's important to know that local lead levels are based on the average of water samples collected from higher-risk homes—those with older plumbing or a history of lead problems—throughout your community. Unless you know for sure, it's important to play it safe."

(Source: PUR Water Filtration Products)