From the Harford County Health Department:
Following up on reports from residents of the Grafton Ridge community concerning levels of lead in well water samples, the Harford County Health Department is collaborating with local and State authorities in evaluating the situation and to providing appropriate public health precautions for residents.
Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly commented that, “Although lead is generally not found in ground water in Harford County, the Harford County Health Department takes these concerns seriously. Lead in water above the EPA action level (15 parts per billion per liter of water) can cause adverse health effects if the lead enters the bloodstream. Our primary concern is for children under six years of age and pregnant women, both groups of which are at highest risk. Most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not likely elevate blood lead levels in adults.”
Lead is not typically found in the groundwater in Harford County, but may be present in various plumbing fixtures, adapters, pipe fittings, and other parts of the water distribution system. Due to the acidic (corrosive) nature of the groundwater in Harford County, plumbing fixtures containing lead may begin to leach the contaminant into the drinking water.
Ms. Kelly further clarified, “Public water systems are regulated by the EPA and are required to provide water containing less than 15 parts per billion lead per liter of water. The public can obtain water quality data through your local water service provider. However, homes and businesses utilizing private well water supplies are not regulated by the EPA. Once wells are placed into service, they become the responsibility of homeowners, and residents of homes with wells are reminded to have water periodically sampled and tested for lead and any other potential contaminants.”
Lead is a naturally occurring bluish-gray metal found in small amounts on the earth’s outer layer and can be found in many different materials and in all parts of our environment. Much of it comes from human activities including burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing. It can still be found in lead-based paint, batteries, metal products such as solder and pipes, and devices to shield X-rays. Because of health concerns, the use and amount of lead in household and everyday products has been regulated and seriously reduced. As a result, incidence of lead poisoning now is much less today than it was 30 years ago.
However, lead does not occur naturally in the body and rarely occurs naturally in water. Rather, it usually is absorbed into the water from the delivery system. Previously, lead pipes were the main contributor to high lead levels in tap water, but these have since been replaced by the use of PVC pipe. Other sources include parts of the water delivery system such as lead solder used to join copper pipes, brass in faucets, and valves. Although brass usually contains low lead levels, the lead can still dissolve into the water, especially when the fixtures are new or if exposed to water with higher acidity levels.
Areas identified most frequently as being at greatest risk include homes with lead paint and where copper piping still is used in plumbling. The level of lead in paint chips and paint dust, either accidentally inhaled or ingested, generally create a much higher risk of toxicity than lead ingested by drinking water.
As a precaution, the Health Department encourages local residents with concerns about lead levels in their well water to continue using bottled drinking water as well as flushing individual faucets prior to drinking it or cooking with it. Any time a particular faucet has not been used for approximately six hours or more, the system can be flushed by running the cold water for about one or two minutes or until the water becomes noticeably colder to the touch. Water flushed from the tap can be used to water plants, wash dishes or clothing, or clean. Because human skin does not absorb lead from water, bathing and showering are safe for adults and children.
Excellent resources for information about lead contamination in drinking water include the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov and the Environmental Protection Agency website at www.epa.gov . For additional information on lead contamination, contact the Harford County Health Department, visit the Health Department website at www.harfordcountyhealth.com or by calling 410-612-1771.