Lead in Drinking Water and What You Can Do
Lead is harmful to human health. Health impacts include effects on neurological development and behaviour in children and increased blood pressure and kidney issues in adults. Lead exposure can impact the health of everyone, but lead is more of a risk for pregnant women and young children because infants and children absorb lead more easily than adults and are more susceptible to its harmful effects, such as effects on behaviour and intelligence. The public’s overall exposure to lead has decreased over the years as some major sources of lead have been eliminated. However building plumbing systems can still be a source of lead for people consuming the water (in addition to other sources such as food, soil, paint and dust). When there is a risk of lead being present in a buildings water system, steps can be taken to reduce exposure to lead from the drinking water.
What is a safe level?
Health Canada has reduced the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water to 5 parts per billion while at the same stating that lead levels should be as low as reasonably achievable. There is no known safe level of lead exposure.
What can I do?
The BC Ministry of Health document titled Lead in Drinking Water provides details on the issue and steps that can be taken to reduce lead levels in your drinking water:
Health Canada’s document titled: Drinking water: what about lead? provides similar details as well as a good description of the sources of lead within a building’s plumbing system:
What are the health concerns?
According to Health Canada, even ingesting a low level of lead may be harmful. Lead can harm the intellectual development, behaviour, size and hearing of developing fetuses, infants and young children. The health impact depends on many factors including the amount consumed over time, age, nutrition and underlying health issues.
People may ingest lead from many sources, such as food, drinking water, soil, paint and dust. There is no evidence that drinking water in B.C. is a significant source of lead intake.
As the skin does not easily absorb lead from water, exposure to lead from showering, bathing or cleaning is not a concern. For more information about lead paint, see HealthLinkBC File #31 Lead Paint and Hazards.