Lead levels in Utah's drinking water supplies are below safe limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, but spot checks of 48 newer Utah homes showed 17 had unsafe lead levels.
An EPA-mandated publicity campaign about the adverse health problems lead can cause was accompanied Tuesday by a news conference during which state drinking water and health officials announced the state's more than 500 drinking water utilities are delivering good water to their customers.But, officials warned, lead solder used to join copper plumbing pipes can cause a problem when water is consumed that has been standing in the pipes overnight in a house that is less than 5 years old.
All the homes tested where lead limits exceeded EPA standards were less than 5 years old, and the lead level dropped to within acceptable limits after water that had been standing in the pipes was flushed from the system, Hilbert said, adding that the lead originated inside the home.
The solution to a potential lead problem, Hilbert said, is simply allowing the water to run for several minutes each morning before drinking it. Flushing toilets, running showers and other typical morning routines accomplish that, he said.
Water filtering devices sold for home use do not remove lead, and water softeners can actually increase lead levels in some circumstances, said Ken Bousfield, compliance program manager for the state's Bureau of Drinking Water/Sanitation. Water softeners make the water more "aggressive," Bousfield said, which makes lead in the solder dissolve into the water faster.
The EPA has issued warnings that lead can damage the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells, said Robert B. Hilbert, chairman of the Utah Safe Drinking Water Committee. Pregnant women and small children are at the greatest risk when exposed to lead.
EPA bans on lead in paint and a partial ban on lead in gasoline are examples of other steps taken to rid the environment of lead contamination, Hilbert said.
In August, the EPA placed restrictions on the labeling and sale of solder containing lead. Beginning Sunday, an EPA ban on solder containing lead for use in plumbing will take effect. Hilbert said it is likely solder containing lead is still being used in homes now under construction.
Most of the lead in solder "leaches" into the water or is isolated from the water by mineral deposits by the time the plumbing system is five years old, Bousfield said.
Paid announcements about the dangers of lead in drinking water, accompanied by lists of local water utility officials, were published in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune Sunday. The announcements will be repeated in both papers, and in the Standard Examiner July 10 and Aug. 14, Bousfield said.