From the Harford County Health Department:
At the request of Harford County Health officer Susan Kelly and in response to recent public inquiries about levels of lead in well drinking water, please find attached our recently crafted Harford County Health Department “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) on the topic of “Lead in Drinking Water.”
The information contained in the FAQ reflects a collaborative effort between the Harford County Health Department and our colleagues at the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (MD DHMH) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) . . . and also can be accessed from the HCHD website homepage in a number of ways.
How does Maryland regulate lead in drinking water in public water supplies?
Lead is a drinking water contaminant that is regulated by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for public water systems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an “action level” for lead in drinking water at 15 parts per billion (ppb) in order to protect public health.
Is there regulation of lead in water from private wells?
Homes and businesses using private well water supplies are not regulated by the EPA, but the EPA “action level” of 15 ppb is used by MDE, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Harford County Health Department as a recommended maximum level for drinking water from private wells.
How do I know if there is lead in my drinking water from my private well?
It is the responsibility of individual home and business owners who have private wells to have their water supplies tested for lead and any other contaminants about which they might have concerns. Lead is not one of the required tests for a Certificate of Potability, which is issued before a well can be put into service.
How does lead get into the drinking water in private wells?
Lead in groundwater can occur naturally in some areas, but is not typically found in the groundwater in Harford County. Lead also can get into drinking water from private wells through other routes. For instance, lead can leach (dissolve) from solder used to connect pipes, or from brass or bronze found in various plumbing fixtures, adapters, pipe fittings, and other parts of water distribution systems. Lead in solder and distribution system components is more likely to dissolve into water that is more acidic (corrosive).
Is lead a problem only in older homes with lead pipes or copper piping with lead solder?
No. Lead may be found in fixtures and pipe fittings comprised of brass and bronze alloys.
How do I get my drinking water tested for lead?
The only way to know whether your water contains lead is to have it tested. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in the quantities found within drinking water. Certified drinking water laboratories, as well as the Harford County Health Department, can provide testing services; however, processing time with the private laboratories is much shorter, with cost being about equal. Please visit the following link for a list of certified water quality laboratories:
“Metals 1” in the Approved Tests column indicates that the laboratory performs lead testing in drinking water.
. . . or call MDE’s Water Supply Program at 410- 537-3729 for a list of certified water quality laboratories.
It is important to follow the collection instructions from the laboratory about where and how to sample, what kind of container, and other issues in order to obtain a reliable test result. Otherwise, ask your laboratory to obtain the sample for you.
If lead is found in my drinking water, does that mean that I or my family will have dangerous levels of lead in our bodies?
Lead in drinking water can be absorbed into the body, and there are many factors that determine whether and how much lead actually stays in the body. Blood tests for lead can be used to evaluate an individual’s exposure to lead. The Harford County Health Department recommends blood lead tests for sensitive groups such as children and pregnant women who need to be concerned about exposures to lead in drinking water above the EPA action level. If you are concerned about whether you or a family member should have a lead test, contact the Harford County Health Department.
What will the blood lead test tell us about possible exposures to lead?
A blood lead test indicates how much lead is in the blood but will not tell you where the lead came from, nor exactly when the exposure occurred. Repeat blood lead testing can, to some extent, differentiate between recent and past exposure. Blood lead testing will not determine how much lead is in other parts of the body, especially the bones, where it can be stored for a long time. If someone has an increased blood lead level, it is important for a health care provider to ask about all potential sources of exposure, including paint, water, some imported cosmetics, pottery glazes, and other possible sources related to occupation and hobbies. For more information, contact MDE’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Hotline at 1-800-776-2706 or,““““““““““““““ for concerns having specifically to do with lead in water supplies, contact the MDE Water Supply Program at 410-537-3729.
Who is at highest risk from exposure to lead?
Infants, children under six years of age, and pregnant women are especially sensitive to lead because it can affect the developing nervous system and other body systems. Infants and children can be affected by lead at much lower levels than adults.
While exposure to lead can occur from a variety of sources, drinking water can be an important source of exposure for infants and children, including bottle-fed infants if tap water with elevated lead levels is used to prepare infant formula.
What is the main concern about lead in young children?
Lead in young children can cause problems with mental and physical development. While there can be other effects of lead, these are the most likely and most significant risks of lead in young children.
What can I do to reduce or eliminate lead in my tap water?
If your tap water contains lead at levels exceeding the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb, you should take steps to minimize your family’s exposure to lead in the water:
• Only use the cold water tap for drinking and cooking purposes.
• Prior to use, flush the tap for 30 seconds or until the water temperature changes, especially if the tap has not been used for over 6 hours. Of course, if the tap is in relatively constant use during the day, a shorter flush time may suffice.
• Boiling water will not reduce the amount of lead in your water.
• For infants, young children and pregnant women in homes where drinking water contains more than 15 ppb of lead, the CDC (the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends the use of bottled water or water which has passed through a certified treatment system (such as a reverse-osmosis device mounted on a faucet).
What should be done for infants, young children and pregnant women if lead was detected in drinking water at less than 15 ppb?
For these cases, this should be discussed with your health care provider.
If I have more questions about my child’s health and lead, what should I do?
Concerns about lead exposure should be discussed with your child’s health care provider. A blood lead level may be requested through your provider’s office based upon concern for lead exposure. If you still have questions, you or your health care provider may contact the Harford County Health Department at 410-273-5626, ext. # 2290 or MDE’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Hotline at 1-800-776-2706.
What do I need to know about home water treatment systems to reduce lead?
The CDC suggests contacting NSF International (a certifying organization) for information about home water treatment systems designed to reduce lead in drinking water. An NSF-certified product search is available at:
If a home water treatment system is used, it is important to follow all maintenance recommendations from the manufacturer.
What do I need to know about bottled water?
Bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has set a limit for lead in bottled water at 5 ppb. Some bottled waters may not have been certified in accordance with FDA standards, so consumers may need to determine whether a particular bottled water product has been appropriately certified. Also, most bottled waters do not contain fluoride, so fluoride supplements may be needed if fluoride supplementation is desired.
If my water has a high lead level, is it safe to take a bath or shower?
Yes, bathing and showering would be safe for you and your children, even if water contains lead above 15 ppb. You will not absorb lead through your skin.
For more information about lead in water, contact the Harford County Health Department at 410-877-2300 or the MDE Water Supply Program at 410-537-3729.