How safe is the tap water in your home? It’s a question you may not have thought about until the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey. Consumer Reports explains how to check your tap water for lead and the best ways to remove it.
Lead can enter drinking-water supplies when older pipes, solder or fittings corrode. It’s harmful, especially for children and pregnant women. You can’t see, taste, or smell lead. The only way to know if your water contains unsafe lead levels is by testing.
If you get your water from a public municipal water system, it’s supposed to have drinking-water quality standards for lead and other contaminants, and you’re supposed to be notified if there are any problems.
Typically you will also get a water-quality report in your July bill. And water companies post their reports epa.gov/safewater. Many public water authorities also have websites with data on drinking-water quality, including results of lead testing.
Your water can also be contaminated by lead from the pipes in your home. You should have your water tested by a lab if your house was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, or if you use well water. You can find a state-certified laboratory by calling the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791. You may also want to check your state or local health departments. Many offer free water-test kits.
If the lab tests find lead levels above 150 parts per billion, contact your local health department. For levels below that, a water filter can make the water safer to drink.
Consumer Reports has tested water filters to see how well they remove lead and other contaminants. Some good choices are the Clear-2-O carafe for $30 and the faucet-mounted Culligan filter FM-15A for $20.
Be aware that boiling water will not get rid of lead contamination. Hot water from your tap is likely to contain higher levels of lead, so only use water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula.