Lead FAQ

Should I be concerned about lead?

Stories about lead-contaminated drinking water and potential public health impacts have received much attention recently. But lead-based paint remains the most widespread and dangerous source of exposure. It is very difficult to predict health effects based on general information about lead in water as every person’s individual health picture is unique.

We understand people are concerned about the potential health impacts of lead in drinking water. Lead is a toxin, and we don’t want it at unacceptable levels in our drinking water. But it’s important to keep in mind that lead exposure risks from drinking water are generally low. In fact, it’s highly unlikely to have drinking water as the only potential source of exposure to lead if a child or adult has an elevated blood lead level.

Children and adults can be exposed to lead from many sources, including lead-based paint, soil and the air. Other factors such as home environment, parental occupation, ethnicity and poverty are other possible risk factors. We have a very low occurrence of elevated blood lead levels among children six and under in Pierce County, and generally those levels are related to lead-based paint and contaminated soil.

Because everyone’s individual health picture is unique, it is difficult to predict health effects to a child based on information about lead in water. Anyone with concerns about exposure to lead should contact their healthcare provider.

Your healthcare provider can help you decide if you should test your child's blood for lead. You may also want to test your water, paint, and soil at your home to see if they contain lead. Our Dirt Alert program—www.dirtalert.info— can help people in the Tacoma Smelter Plume area determine if they should have their soil tested.

Elevated Lead Levels Found in Tacoma Public Schools

Based on water sample results that showed elevated lead levels at some schools, Tacoma Public Schools plans to test drinking water district wide. The district has blocked access to fountains and faucets at schools where the school’s data shows elevated lead levels. The affected schools are using bottled water for drinking and food preparation. They also have hand washing stations so students avoid using the tap water. Contact Tacoma Public Schools, (253) 571-1015, for specific questions or visit www.tacomaschools.org/news for more information.

Tacoma Water Removing and Replacing Lead Pipes

After increased water quality sampling at four residences in the Lincoln District revealed elevated lead levels, Tacoma Water acted to correct the source of the issue. On April 22, the utility mailed letters to 1,700 water customers who live in older homes and may be affected. The affected customers represent about 2% of Tacoma Water’s service area. Unless you received Tacoma Water’s letter stating that you have one of these connections, you have no reason for concern at this time. Contact Tacoma Public Utilities, (253) 502-8207, for specific questions about the incident visit www.mytpu.org/tacomawater for more information.

Drinking Water Safety

Is my water safe to drink?

There is no guarantee that the tap water in every home, school or business is 100 percent free of lead. However, all community water systems in the state are required to regularly test to ensure the water provided is safe to drink.

What can I do about to reduce exposure to lead in my drinking water?

If you have not used your cold water for six hours or more, Tacoma Water recommends you flush your cold water pipes. Run the water until it is noticeably colder and for at least two minutes before drinking or cooking. Taking a shower or watering your lawn will do that. Then give your kitchen or bathroom tap a 15-second flush before filling your glass.

Other ways to reduce your exposure:

  • Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Hot water may contain higher levels of lead.
  • Clean the screens and aerators in faucets frequently to remove captured lead particles.
  • Use only “lead free” piping and materials for plumbing when building or remodeling.

How does lead get into water?

Lead in drinking water usually comes from water distribution lines or household plumbing rather than lakes, wells, or streams. Lead from other sources, such as ingesting old paint chips or dust, can add to the effects of exposure to lead in water.

If my water has elevated lead levels, is it safe for bathing and showering?

Yes. Human skin does not absorb lead in water. Bathing and showering is safe for you and your children.

Is water with elevated lead levels safe for pets to drink?

No. Dogs and cats are susceptible to lead poisoning just like people. We recommend you give them the same water you drink.

Should I filter my tap water?

This is a personal decision. If you decide to use a filter, make sure it is certified to filter lead.

Lead Exposure

What should I do if I suspect lead exposure?

A blood test can measure the amount of lead in your blood and estimate the amount of your recent exposure to lead. Talk to your health care provider about whether you or your child needs to be tested for lead. Your health care provider may ask you some questions to see if you or your child is at risk for lead poisoning. The only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed to lead is a blood test. Learn more about who should get blood lead testing and what the results mean on our lead resource page: tpchd.org/lead.

Who is most at risk for the negative health effects of lead exposure?

Children six years old and younger are the most susceptible to the effects of lead. Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. In children, lead toxicity mainly targets the nervous system. Even very low levels of lead in a child’s blood can result in damage to the brain and nervous system, which leads to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, anemia, and hearing problems.

A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby. It can result in serious effects on the pregnancy and her developing baby, including miscarriage, reduced growth of the baby, and premature birth.

Does a high lead level in my tap water cause negative health effects?

High levels of lead in tap water can cause health effects if the lead in the water enters the bloodstream and causes an elevated blood lead level. Most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not likely elevate blood lead levels in most adults, even exposure to water with a lead content close to the EPA action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Risk will vary, however, depending on the individual, the circumstances, and the amount of water consumed. For example, infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water may be at a higher risk because of the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size.

Children and adults can be exposed to lead from many sources, including lead-based paint, soil and the air. Other factors such as home environment, parental occupation, ethnicity, and poverty are other possible risk factors. We have a very low occurrence of elevated blood lead levels among children six and under in Pierce County, and generally those levels are related to lead-based paint and contaminated soil.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

There may be no obvious symptoms of lead toxicity. People exposed to and affected by lead may not act or look sick.

Where does lead come from?

Lead is in all parts of our environment—the air, soil, water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from past use of lead-based paint, leaded gasoline, and lead-emitting industry. Although there are several exposure sources, lead-based paint is the most widespread and dangerous high-dose source of lead exposure for young children. Lead from all of these sources can contribute to a person’s overall lead exposure.