Lead has been in the news a lot lately. Here in Memphis, activists are taking part in a campaign to remove all lead contamination from our water lines. As I have said many times, I oppose both lead and fluoride in our drinking water. I believe America should have an effective, workable plan that over time will replace as many lead water pipes as possible.
For those of you who wonder if you have anything to fear from aging water infrastructure and old lead pipes, the answer is, yes, but this is not a critical issue in most cities across the US. Fortunately the laws of nature, chemistry, water treatment and The Clean Water Act make the risk of lead poisoning from well-operated municipal drinking water systems minor.
During my 30-year career I have never once seen lead levels for an individual water system that were significantly different in pipes whether they were lead, copper or PVC. Here in Memphis, even though we have some lead pipes, the municipality has not violated lead levels.
Why is this you ask? It is because for any pipe that has been in service for a long time, there is an internal layer of calcium scale built up inside of it. While this layer seems yucky, it actually protects us by not allowing the flowing water to come into contact with the metal of the pipe.
Beware however, that when a line breaks, and it has to be repaired, there is a risk that some of the lead will be released into the water. In general, after vigorous rinsing, the lead level will soon be back inline with the lead concentrations in the city water.
While it might be a good idea to have a home system that will take out lead should a rare problem occur, the concern over lead in drinking water for normally operating municipalities should be a reasonable one, not a frantic one.
On a closing note, where city outflow shows no lead, but certain neighborhoods do show lead, the real place to look is in lead solder and plumbing fixtures that contain lead. These kind of things are usually found in poor communities where bargain contractors, and the low-bidder city contractor mentality comes into place.
The link below will give you a visual of a normal, healthy pipe.