According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world, thanks to the strict regulation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) That being said, outdated plumbing laid down three decades ago may be threatening the water quality of urban centers like Chicago, as this article from The Chicago Tribune reports:
Dangerous levels of lead are turning up in Chicago homes where pipes made of the toxic metal were disturbed by street work or plumbing repairs, according to a new federal study that suggests the city’s aggressive efforts to modernize its water system could inadvertently pose health risks.
The problem starts with lead service lines that Chicago installed across the city until the mid-1980s to connect water mains to homes. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that spikes of lead can leach into tap water when those pipes are altered by water main replacements, meter installations or street work.
While lead does not naturally occur in drinking water, the pressure of flowing water can corrode the lead in plumbing and introduce it into tap water. Lead pipes were commonly utilized in the 1980s until amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibited their use due to health concerns like damage to the renal, nervous, and reproductive systems. This metal is very harmful to pregnant women and can damage the developing brains of fetuses and young children; at extremely high levels, lead poisoning can cause coma and even death.
Worryingly, you cannot smell, taste or see lead. Tap water has to be tested to ensure that it does not contain this toxic metal. What’s more, even newer lead free fittings can contain up to 8% lead, 32 times more than the maximum allowed by the EPA.
Fortunately, companies like Gruner Brass Fittings, Corp. produce guaranteed lead free pipe fittings that comply with the strict standards set by the EPA. As such, these pipe fittings can be used in both residential and industrial plumbing without the risk of polluting water with lead.
While the country hasn’t completely replaced all of its lead plumbing, the case in Chicago proves that old pipes can endanger the millions of citizens who rely on public water systems. With the government’s help—and the use of safe plumbing materials—lead-contaminated water should soon be a thing of the past.
(Article information and image from EPA warns modernizing water system may boost levels of lead, The Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2013)