Lead exposure poses a serious health risk to people who ingest the heavy metal. The threat is pronounced in older structures that have lead-based paints and where lead was used in the plumbing that brings drinking water into homes and buildings.
A panel of Yale School of Public Health experts in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences—Vasilis Vasiliou, Ph.D., professor and department chair; Ying Chen, M.D., Ph.D., research scientist; Nicole Deziel, Ph.D., assistant professor; and Gary Ginsburg, Ph.D., lecturer—responds to a series of questions about the dangers of lead exposure and what people can do to safeguard themselves and their families.
Ensuring that your home is lead-free can prevent lead poisoning. Several actions can be taken to help reduce the risk of lead exposure.
- Be aware of lead-containing materials in your plumbing system.
- You can test the lead levels in your tap water using commercially available kits.
- You can purchase a filter to remove the lead from tap water. Also, you can run cold water for a few minutes before using the water. Alternatively, lead plumbing or fixtures could be replaced.
- Ensure lead paint is intact and not flaking or peeling.
- Wash your children’s hands and toys often and keep dusty surfaces clean.
- Ensure a diet rich in antioxidants found in fresh vegetables and fruits that will help mitigate lead toxicity.
- Have your children tested for lead exposure, particularly when they're younger than 3 years old.
In the U.S., including the Northeast, we have an aging water distribution system and many people have homes with lead plumbing. However, Connecticut adjusts the water chemistry to minimize the amount of corrosion that can occur. Connecticut has some of the most stringent potable drinking water regulations in the United States. Potable public drinking water supplies are strictly regulated by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and drinking water supply companies are held to the highest standards with respect to water testing reports, professional certifications and regulatory audits. In addition, all Connecticut drinking water is sourced from well-protected reservoirs and deep-well water supplies. In Flint, Michigan, the Flint River was used for the drinking water source. In contrast, in Connecticut, rivers, streams and other water supplies are not allowed for potable use by the Connecticut drinking water regulations.
However, here in Connecticut we also use private wells for drinking water, which may also have corrosion issues. Private wells are not regulated by the EPA or the state health department; it is up to individual residents to test their own well water. All the actions recommended for the community water supply (e.g., testing, filtering, running cold water) also apply to well water.
Even with strict protections in place, problems could occur. If you have any concerns about the quality of your water, you can contact your water supplier or health agencies or refer to the resources provided below.