In the past year, clean drinking water has become a concern for some residents of Allegheny County. From the discovery of high lead levels in some City of Pittsburgh residents’ tap water to the recent boil-water advisory in some parts of the city, people are wondering how worried they should be about their tap water.
Federal and state laws require that public drinking water suppliers test water regularly for anything that might make the water impure (contaminants) or unsafe to drink or use. In the summer of 2016, many City of Pittsburgh residents received letters from their water provider, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), that tests from tap water in some homes showed high levels of lead. As PWSA, the City of Pittsburgh and residents continue working to fix the situation, one question weighs heavily on many people’s minds: How do we protect ourselves and our loved ones?
It is important to understand why lead in drinking water is dangerous. No amount of lead exposure is safe. It is especially dangerous to infants, young people and pregnant women. Lead is stored in the bones and can affect people later in life. In pregnancy, babies get lead from the mother’s bones. Early exposure can slow brain development and cause difficulty learning. Lead damages the brain, kidneys, muscle development and the nervous system.
“Lead in water mostly comes from old pipes,” says Aaron Barchowsky, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Because many Pittsburgh homes were built decades ago, the pipes that bring water to their houses from the main service lines are often made of lead.
If you are concerned about lead in your water, find out what is coming out of your faucet. PWSA customers can ask for a free lead test (http://pgh2o.com/lead-testing-kits). Private wells are not monitored. Owners of private wells should get their water tested. The Allegheny County Health Department also provides information on how to lower your risk of lead exposure (http://www.achd.net/safehomes/drinking-water.html). People can buy bottled water, but that can be expensive and the bottles, if not recycled, create more waste in the environment. Filtered water pitchers or faucet attachments can remove some contaminants. Each brand of filter has its own claims as to what it filters, so it is best to read very carefully the information provided with those purchases.