Brandon had always been an active boy, but he began to experience nausea and severe headaches every night. Examinations by local doctors found no cause, and treatment with antibiotics didn't work. As Brandon became increasingly anemic and would no longer go out to play, his mother noticed that he became more ill after using water from one particular faucet in the bathroom, where he brushed his teeth twice a day. The family contacted their local Environmental Health Department and water samples taken from kitchen and bathroom sinks showed there were very high lead levels in their water - nearly eight times the limit allowed by law!
Based on the Fyfe family's discovery, a survey was done randomly on 95 other new homes in the area and it was discovered that 10 of the brand new homes had levels of lead in the water supply that were over the legal limit.
As terrifying as it may have been, the Fyfe family's predicament wasn't a random occurrence. It's becoming a nightmare in some parts of the world because people are simply unaware of how dangerous lead can be when it leaches into household water. Too much lead in the human body can cause serious damage, and young children, infants and fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning.
There are many sources of lead in the environment. If they think of it at all, most people think of lead-based paint as the primary source of lead in the environment, but lead has been outlawed for use in paint for many years now. In reality the growing levels of lead in water supplies are making it a much more common source of contamination.
Lead rarely occurs naturally in drinking water. It's far more common for lead contamination to occur at some point in the water delivery system. It isn't well known, but household plumbing is usually the culprit when it comes to high levels of lead and copper in drinking water. Lead and/or copper pipes, fittings and other components are commonly found in many plumbing systems. Metallic alloys such as brass and bronze often contain lead, so brass faucets or plumbing fittings may also release lead into home water systems.
Older houses are more likely to have problems with lead than houses built since 1988. Before that time, lead piping and lead solder were widely used in household plumbing systems as well as in the service lines that connect houses to street water mains. In 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of lead pipes and lead solder in plumbing systems because lead is an insidious and dangerous poison. The EPA set an "action level" of .015 milligrams per liter of water for lead, stating that levels higher than that in water could pose a risk to human health.
A Serious Health Risk
Lead is a cumulative poison, meaning it builds up in the body over many years until it reaches toxic levels. It can be absorbed through the digestive tract, the lungs and the skin, and it's carried throughout the body in the blood. Damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and red blood cells can result from lead poisoning - just like young Brandon Fyfe experienced. The severity of effects varies depending on the concentration of lead in the body. At extremely high levels, death may result. Some of the effects of lead poisoning may diminish if exposure is reduced, but others are irreversible. Children are more vulnerable to lead because their bodies will absorb it more rapidly than adults.
Both the mental and physical development of children can be severely depressed by overexposure to lead. On average, about 10 to 20 percent of a child's total lead exposure comes from common drinking water. Infants who are fed formula get even more of their lead from drinking water - 40 to 60 percent. Developing fetuses may also be damaged if the mother drinks water containing high levels of lead.
The news only gets worse. Although lead has long been recognized as poisonous at high dosages - as experienced with lead-based paint - recent studies have shown it now is also much more damaging at lower levels than previously believed. As a result, lead exposure levels once considered acceptable have been lowered. While some effects of lead poisoning may diminish if exposure is reduced, others will never diminish.
If a house was built after 1988, its plumbing system should be lead-free. However, some plumbers have continued to illegally use lead solder because it's easier to work with than newer formulations. Homeowners can easily check to see what kind of solder was used on their pipes because the old, illegal 50/50 lead/tin solder is dull gray in appearance and only looks shiny underneath when scratched. There is usually no gap or indentation where the pipe and fitting meet. The newer solder formulation, of 95 percent tin and five percent antimony, is the most widely used replacement for lead solder. It remains shiny in appearance and may dip slightly where the pipe and fitting meet.
Legislative Action Alone Is No Solution
When it took action in 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2 percent lead and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to no more than 8.0 percent. The EPA has determined that dissolved lead levels in drinking water should be less than .015 parts per billion (15 ppb). This "Lead Action Level" standard is intended to help communities around the nation reduce their exposure to lead in drinking water and thereby minimize the 10 to 20 percent of a person's exposure that comes from tap water.
According to Larry Gillanders, ACE DuraFlo CEO, these numbers don't really indicate the severity of the problem, however. For example, that "recommended limit" translates to just 15 milligrams of lead in 1,000 liters of water. That's the equivalent of 1/32 of an ounce of lead in a 15,000 gallon swimming pool - about as much as one drop from a medicine dropper put into the average backyard swimming pool!
So what can the average homeowner do? No one wants to tear out existing pipes and replace brass fittings or lead solder. That would cost a fortune and would require destroying interior walls to get at the affected pipes. There is a far more effective and lower cost solution to the problem, however. It involves the installation of a unique barrier coating that can be applied to the insides of household water pipes, providing a chemically inert protective lining. This coating not only prevents metal leaching into household water, it also prevents the major cause of water damage and mold formation in homes today - pinhole leaks in corroding copper piping.
Unique New Technology Solution
This new ACE DuraFlo(R) Systems repiping technique, which has multiple patents pending, can be performed on the average home in just one day. After shutting off the water supply, technicians connect special equipment to key access points in the water piping system and perform three primary steps. First, they heat and air-dry the pipes. Then they clean the inside of the pipes using special corundum to remove any scaling or corrosion of the metal. Finally they apply the patented epoxy, which is dispersed throughout the plumbing pipes under pressure to form the protective barrier coating. The coating completely seals the pipe, joints and fitting surfaces. It provides two-way protection - no metal can leach through into the water supply and the water itself can no longer corrode the pipes from the inside. Families can move back into their homes the next day and be assured they'll no longer have to worry about over-the-limit lead content.
Does the process work? Just ask the military families living in government housing units at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. Their home water supplies were heavily contaminated by lead leaching from illegal lead solder joints. The Associated Press reported recently (Jan. 2, 2003) that soldered joints in copper plumbing were believed to be the source of high lead levels found in the drinking water at 264 residences at the Warren Air Force Base.
The housing had been built in the early 1980s, when lead solder was still widely used in the plumbing industry. Samples of the solder indicated lead content varied between 30 percent and 60 percent. Water tests by base personnel showed that lead levels in the drinking water were at 18 parts per billion - twice the level of typical households in the Cheyenne area.
ACE DuraFlo Systems demonstrated the effectiveness of barrier coatings in eliminating lead leaching into the water supply by lining the interior of the affected potable water lines with their unique in-place pipe restoration. Their epoxy barrier coating is listed for in-field application standard by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) for products that come into contact with potable water. It also is UPC listed as meeting requirements set forth by the Uniform Plumbing Code.
When the job was done, tests showed that lead levels from the homes' contaminated pipes had been eliminated and lead levels in the tap water now tested in line with the general water supply for the area, which was well within EPA guidelines.