The causes of lead in tap water are several. Here's a look at why metal, like lead, could be in your drinking water and the health problems caused by exposure to it.

• Naturally Occurring Lead

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal. Like minerals, it is found in rocks. It gets into the rainwater as rain passes through the rocks. It may also be present in lakes, streams and rivers. Any freshwater or saltwater can be contaminated with it.

• Lead From The Pipes

The pipes in older city infrastructures, buildings and homes may be composed of it. Lead-containing solder was commonly used in plumbing systems until the practice was banned a few decades ago. In fact, the term “plumbing” is derived from the Latin word for “lead”.

As the pipes and solder degrades, passages of the heavy metal are released into the water. At times, the concentration has been high enough in some older cities of the US to cause the cities to turn off fountains and post health warnings.

• Lead Due to Degradation by Chlorine

The problem of lead in tap water would not be as bad was it not for the use of chlorine. Chlorine is a caustic substance. It eats away at pipes and solder points, greatly increasing the amount of metal that enters the water.

• Health Effects of Lead In Water

The greatest risk is to children. The substance is a poisonous metal that can damage the central nervous system, causing brain and blood disorders. Poisoning can lead to death.

Long term exposure to low levels of the substance can cause damage to the kidneys. The amount of lead in tap water varies very much. The amount often present is sufficient to cause high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stomach pain is a symptom of low level exposure. The liver is affected. While the central nervous system is the main target, any organ or system of the body can be affected.

Weakness in the fingers, wrists or ankles could be a symptom. Anemia can be caused by exposure. Miscarriages are associated with consumption of small amounts.

The link to development or cognitive deficits in children is the reason that lead-based paint was banned during the 20th century. Developmental delays, such as late puberty, are associated with exposure.

Some of the health effects may be reversible if exposure is stopped. But studies have shown that low level exposure during childhood can permanently reduce a person's ability to learn.

• Solutions That Work

Testing for lead in tap water must be done at the home. The tests conducted by public treatment facilities only take into account naturally occurring sources. The amount present in your home has to do with the amount present in the pipelines.

Testing can be expensive. It is actually more affordable to install a home purifier, especially since the lead in tap water is not the only contaminant homeowners have to worry about. In my next article you will learn about the available methods for removing the toxic substance.