Feedback from question on testing drinking water for lead

Kjell Johansen, PhD, Whitefish Bay, WI:
Because the usual Pb concentration is in the ppb range, it is very unlikely that a household can test tap water unless they have access to some sophisticated equipment. In Wisconsin, we can request a sample bottle from the State Lab of Hygiene and they will send the correct sample size bottle and instructions for sampling and mailing. Then for a small fee, about $25, they will perform the analysis and send you a report. Living in a Lake Michigan shoreline community, I participate in a monitoring program, which gives me the results for free.

Pat Carroll, M.S., R.S., CCHD, Great Falls, MT:
With EPA limits set at 0.015 ppm for lead, homeowners must have a certified and reputable lab do the testing for them. Best place to start is at the local sanitarians office. They should be able to refer homeowners to these labs. Usually, a metals screening can be done and then any secondary test can be advised. Different levels of testing can be done, and of course at different prices. Any quality lab can answer the home owner's questions.

Jim Newton, P.E., DEE, Environmental Program Manager, Kent County Dept. of Public Works, Dover, DE:
Here are two Web sites for home lead in water test kits, both kits cost about $10.

http://www.leadinspector.com
http://www.watersafetestkits.com

Michael D. Garcia, P.E., Health, Safety & Environmental Specialist, 3M Company:
Here is a general answer to Holly's question. Water Utilities are required by law to test for lead. So lead analysis information for the water system should be available through the water utility. Also, many City, County and State environmental agencies off free or reduced cost analysis for drinking water. Finally, many bottled water companies, water well companies, and water softener/purification companies also offer free water testing.

Peter D. Wixted, Environmental Manager, U.S. Department of Commerce:
http://www.leadtesting.org/
http://www.air-techinternational.com/Lead.html

A household consumer can test their own water for lead. Listed above are two Web sites that have testing kits that consumers can use. Another way is to hire a private service to test the water. Check the phone book under home inspection service. The EPA also has information about lead in water at the following Web site: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead/leadfacts.html.

Before testing, one must first ask why? Lead typically is found in water due to contamination at the source, lead piping in the distribution system to the home or lead pipe/fixtures in the home. Community water systems are required to test for lead. The results can indicate potential problems with lead in source water or distribution piping. Older homes (prior to 1978) typically contain piping or fixtures that contain lead. Community water testing will not indicate if there is a problem within the home, so testing at the home may be necessary to determine if there is a problem.

Chris Jenkins, Safety Director, Loch Sand & Construction Company, Maryville, MO:
There are a couple of options. You can go to your local Public Health agency and they will test your water for you. There is usually a fee for this, it will vary! There are also home test kits! You can go to www.watersafetestkits.comand order a test kit.

Carlos Campos, C&K Services:
In California, we can go to our local water agency and request a test kit that they provide at no cost. This is what I would recommend: Call your local water agency and ask them if they provide this type of service. If they don't, then ask them for local resources. Finally, if you have a tough time with it, contact your local POU/POE water provider, they certainly will be able to guide you.

Marshall Searles, Environmental Manager, Forest City Technologies, Wellington, Ohio:
The chlorides of mercury and lead are insoluble in a cold saline solution (common table salt dissolved in water). Run your tap water until cold, into a 4-oz. juice glass (half full is plenty), then stir in about a teaspoon of clean salt until completely dissolved. Allow to stand for an hour. It is important to use only very clean utensils, and examine closely for a white precipitate which may be present in only trace amounts and difficult to see. If present, this could be chloride of either lead or mercury. To establish which, carefully pour out most of the solution, leaving the white sediment in the glass. Add a couple ounces of very hot (200 degrees F) water and stir for a few minutes. The lead chloride precipitate will redissolve, but mercury chloride (also a serious concern) will not. If lead is suspected, to further confirm, allow the clear solution to cool to room temperature. Add a few drops of a 10% solution of dipotassium chromate (available from chemical supply stores). If a definite yellow precipitate forms, this is further proof of lead. This is only a simple household screening, but if results are positive, further testing should be considered by a certified lab.

Melvin Aycock, Senior Environmental Program Manager, Cobb Environmental and Technical Services Inc., Tupelo, MS:
Forestry Suppliers (800 647 5368) ( www.forestry-suppliers.com) has a water test kit (Forestry Suppliers part # 77963) for $13.95. Made by PurTest(tm), this product claims sensitivity to 15 ppb, which is the current maximum contaminant limit (MCL) in drinking water as set by the U.S.EPA.

I'd also recommend consulting the local co-operative extension service (or state equivalent). This office may be listed in the phone book under county government and typically runs the local 4-H program. The state of Mississippi offers water testing services for residents through this office at a nominal fee. I know they will test for biological contamination, but I'm not sure about metals.

Your local home water purifier, or bottled water distributors may also provide metals testing for free in hopes that they will sell their product.

Finally, there are any number of laboratories which will, for about $20.00 per metal provide you with sample bottles, coolers for shipping, and certified laboratory test results.

Alexander Forsley:
Lead testing can be accomplished by purchasing a kit at a hardware store or by contacting a water treatment company, many will test for no charge.

As a water analyst my opinion is that testing for lead, or any other substance, should be tempered with what one is going to do with the results. If one intends to treat for lead if found, just go ahead and treat it with a Reverse Osmosis point of use unit. Since almost every water supply needs treatment for more than just lead, having a water analysis for hardness, pH level, iron, manganese, and odor causes, etc. is advisable. The Better Business Bureau offers a pamphlet that discusses what to look for in water treatment equipment.

Lon Pearson, Titan Corporation, Environmental Division, Redstone Arsenal, AL:
In response to Holly's question: there are several home testing kits available on the market. My experience has been they are complicated for the novice. You only get one chance at a valid test. Mess up and you buy another kit and they are not inexpensive, $16-$25. I would recommend checking the yellow pages for a water-testing lab service for residential checks. These are more expensive, but more reliable. All city utilities post public water analyses of supplied water.

Kurt L. Cunningham, CPG, Project Geologist:
There are several test strips a person can purchase from laboratory supply and specialty testing companies. However, these are generally only screening tools to see if lead is present and at what general concentration. If you want accurate results you should contract a consultant (Environmental or Industrial Hygiene) or a laboratory (look up Laboratories-testing in the yellow pages) to collect and analyze a sample and compare the results to the drinking water standard.

Ron Micue, CHMM:
A home owner has a number of options.

1. Their local county health department has resources that they contract with fir this purpose.

2. There are a number of test kits that are colorimetric that are fairly easy to use. The drawback is that they are packed 9 to 20 to a kit. So a number of owners might go together in purchasing these.

3. Most large water users like hospitals and factories, manufacturers, and even some restaurants are required to test their waste water regularly. The owner can contact these companies or look in the yellow pages to find local labs that regularly test for lead and or any other contaminant in water and wastewater.

These are the same options that people with their own wells have available to them as well.

Claud Stucke, Regulatory Compliance / Safety Assistant, Polychemie:
In Louisiana, we use the Department of Health and Hospitals whose services are free. We have sampled our potable water for years with them. They offer the sample bags and bottles with the sampling instructions. Samples were for oil, grease, led, and chlorine. This helps us stay in compliance with the Louisiana Rural Water Association guidelines.

John Kinkela, Lenox:
By itself, this test is very inexpensive, $15 to $30 at any commercial laboratory. They will provide the prepared sample bottle. Contact the local County Heath Office. At the least they will have a list of qualified laboratories. At best, they will help take the sample and run it in their own lab for a nominal fee -- especially if your well is in a potentially impacted area.

Ivars Jaunakais, President, Industrial Test Systems, Inc., Rock Hill, S.C.:
www.sensafe.com Our company offers a simple lead test kit that utilizes immunodiagnostic techniques that are frequently used in doctor's offices. The test takes 10 minutes, very simple to use, and gives a yes or no answer to: whether your lead level is above 15 ug/L.

Otto J. Audirsch, President, NorPac Environmental:
Pro Labs makes a lead test kit for water and it is available through most large hardware chains such as Lowe's and Home Depot.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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