Since lead is one of the most dangerous drinking water contaminants of all time, we think you’re smart to want to know how to detect it.
What does lead in water look like? Can you taste lead in water? And do different levels of lead have different appearances? We’ve answered all these questions and more in this guide.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Lead particles are completely invisible in water, so they don’t change the appearance of water at all.
- You also can’t taste or smell lead in water, which is what makes it so dangerous – you could be drinking extremely high levels of lead without knowing.
- Lead gets into drinking water through old lead service lines. Health effects of lead include increased blood pressure, organ damage, and reproductive issues.
- There is no safe level of lead in water. If you’re concerned about lead, test your water, then install a water filter that can reduce lead if necessary.
Table of Contents
- 🔎 Can You See Lead in Drinking Water?
- 🤔 Does Lead in Drinking Water Have a Taste?
- 🚱 How Does Lead Get Into Tap Water?
- 🩺 What Are The Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water?
- ⚗️ How Much Lead in Drinking Water Is Safe?
- 📖 How to Take Action Against Lead in Tap Water
- ❔ What Does Lead in Water Look Like? FAQ
🔎 Can You See Lead in Drinking Water?
Lead doesn’t have a color in water, and dissolved lead particles are too small to see. Water containing elevated lead levels will look just as clear as water containing no lead whatsoever.
🤔 Does Lead in Drinking Water Have a Taste?
Lead in drinking water doesn’t have a taste. It doesn’t have a smell, either. These things combined mean that identifying lead contamination is virtually impossible.
Essentially, you could be drinking incredibly high levels of lead and have no idea.
If you can detect a metallic taste in your water, it probably contains copper, iron, or other trace minerals, which usually leach into water from rusting pipes and plumbing.
🚱 How Does Lead Get Into Tap Water?
The most common way for lead to get into tap water is through a lead service line.
It’s now illegal for lead to be used in water service lines, according to a new law established in 1986 by Congress. Unfortunately, this law didn’t oblige water authorities to replace old lead pipes, and many pipes in the US were laid in 1975.
You’ll probably find it difficult to learn whether or not the pipes in your local water system contain lead. Your water supplier might have this information; otherwise, the only way to learn about your lead exposure is to test your water yourself.
Your own home’s pipes might be made from lead. Even the use of lead solder in your plumbing system can lead to contamination of your water supply. Lead pipes are dark gray and soft.
Aside from lead pipes, lead may also get into tap water through old paint and gasoline, which contaminate in industrial and residential areas and end up in local water supplies due to soil seepage and surface runoff.
Illegal industrial dumping is still a problem today, too, and increases the likelihood of lead exposure in certain areas.
🩺 What Are The Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water?
Lead is a heavy metal that’s not needed by the human body – and, in fact, is toxic to humans.
The biggest issue with lead is that it isn’t easily removed from the body after it has been consumed. This means that lead can quickly build up to dangerous levels, resulting in a number of unpleasant health effects.
In adults, excess lead in drinking water causes reproductive issues, cardiovascular effects, and kidney damage. Pregnant women are particularly at risk from drinking lead in tap water, since it can cause delayed fetal growth and premature birth.
In young children, lead water consumption may cause impaired healing, damage to the nervous system, and learning disabilities. Anemia, slowed growth, low IQ, and behavioral issues have also been linked to drinking water lead consumption in children.
⚗️ How Much Lead in Drinking Water Is Safe?
There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency currently has an actionable level of 15 parts per million (PPM) for lead in a public water supply.
That means that a water treatment plant must reduce lead to at least 15 PPM if they want to comply with the law. However, the Environmental Protection Agency can’t do much about lead that enters a drinking water supply as it travels through service lines to our homes.
📖 How to Take Action Against Lead in Tap Water
Below, we’ve listed some of the best ways to learn about lead in your tap water, and take action against this toxic metal.
Test Your Water For Lead
First of all, you need to know whether or not your water contains lead. There are a few ways to do this:
- Use a certified laboratory test. Laboratory testing is more thorough than any other water test out there. A lab test will tell you exactly how much lead your water contains. You can either choose a dedicated lead test or a more generic test that detects a host of common drinking water contaminants, lead included.
- Use an at-home testing kit. If you’re just curious to know whether or not your water contains lead, using an at-home test kit is a good place to start. DIY test kits are easy to use: just dip a test strip in a sample of water from your faucet and wait for the strip to change color. If the kit detects lead, you can spend a bit more money on a more detailed laboratory lead test.
- Contact your local water department. Call 1-800-426-4791, the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline, to get a free lead water test.
📌 Note: we don’t recommend using your Consumer Confidence Report as a guidance for your water’s lead levels since this toxic metal is most likely to enter your water supply on its way to your home.
Install A Lead Removal Water Filter
If you’ve found lead in your water, the best lead removal method is to install a water filter to reduce this contaminant.
Unfortunately, you probably can’t do anything about the lead services lines in your local area. But you can protect your family by removing lead from your drinking water in your home.
Some of the best water filters for removing lead are:
- Activated carbon filters, which reduce chlorine and up to 99% lead
- Reverse osmosis filtration systems, which reduce almost all total dissolved solids, including lead
- Ion exchange media, which reduces up to 99% lead
- Certain types of KDF media
You can find these filters in all kinds of systems, from the most affordable water filter pitchers to complex whole-home filtration systems.
📌 We recommend choosing a filter with an official NSF Standard 53 certification for lead reduction. Otherwise, go with a manufacturer who shares official third-party test results for lead reduction online.
Take These Other Precautionary Measures
If you need a short-term solution for lead contamination in your tap water, these tips should be helpful:
- Don’t use hot water directly from your faucet (more lead dissolves in hot water)
- Before you use your water in the morning, flush your faucets, which will get rid of the water that has been sitting in your lead pipes all night
- Avoid boiling your water, since this will only decrease the amount of water and have no effect on the lead levels
- If you use city water, alert your local water authority about the lead contamination
- Consider switching to bottled water while you’re looking into long-term lead removal solutions
❔ What Does Lead in Water Look Like? FAQ
How do I know if there is lead in my water?
You can’t tell by looking at, smelling, or tasting your water whether or not it contains lead. The only way to know for sure is to get your water tested.
What happens if you drink water that has lead in it?
If you drink water containing lead, you probably won’t notice any short-term effects. But if you continue to drink lead in your water, the lead will accumulate in your body, causing potentially life-altering damage. If you discover that you’ve been drinking elevated lead levels in your water, book an appointment with your doctor for a checkup.
What is the taste of lead?
In water, lead has no taste. If you can taste metals in your drinking water, you’re most likely drinking trace minerals, like copper or iron, which is likely if your water’s pH levels are low.
Is it safe to drink water from lead pipes?
No, it’s not safe to drink water from lead service lines. Even low levels of lead are dangerous. Why? Because lead accumulates in the body over time, causing health effects including high blood pressure and kidney damage. If you have lead plumbing or suspect a lead service line in your local area, test your water to learn more about its lead content and consider installing a water filter that can remove lead.
Can you absorb lead through water?
Yes, you can absorb lead if you drink lead particles in your water. However, your skin can’t absorb lead, so you’re safe to shower, bathe, and wash your hands in lead-contaminated water without any concerns.