February 6, 2009 at 3:51PM
by Alexandra Zissu
The answer: Tap -- just test and filter accordingly.
The question: What water should I drink when pregnant and breastfeeding, and give my child when they start drinking water?
I cannot count the amount of times I have gotten this question -- in person, via e-mail, through Web posts, etc. etc. -- and responded, "Tap, just test and filter accordingly." It's like a mantra. In fact, I recently wrote almost an entire chapter based on that little sentence for my next book on green food and kitchens, due out from Clarkson Potter in 2010.
Some people have challenged me on this, saying testing isn't realistic. No one actually motivates to do it unless they're moving into a new place, or maybe as a good faith gesture when newly pregnant. Another argument/question -- why bother filtering municipal water that is felt to be "good?" Based on the recently disturbing news about lead in Washington DC's drinking water from 2001 to 2004, my mantra seems like good common sense, as well as the best solution for environmental and environmental health purposes.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, the backstory: a change in the water disinfectant used in DC during those years from free chlorine to chloramines caused an obviously unintended lead spike. But it wasn't the only cause. If you want to know more on the nitty gritty, check out this EPA report.
A study published recently in Environmental Science & Technology said that hundreds of babies and toddlers in D.C. were affected by the lead. In babies under 16 months old, contaminated tap water caused the incidents of elevated blood lead levels to increase by more than 400%. Horrifying. And this was all over the city. For toddlers, big increases were neighborhood specific. Apparently government agencies were saying the lead in the water during that time did no harm. Guess not. Needless to say people from all walks of life are up in arms.
Now is a perfect time to check your tap water and filter accordingly. Here's my home state's advice on how to get lead out of drinking water. Do click through to read about how the EPA requires water suppliers to notify homeowners when lead levels are too high, and about lead in private water sources. If you're not up for it, a few choice morsels from the site:
"How does lead get into the water we drink?
Since natural levels of lead in New York State water supplies are low, lead in drinking water usually results from the use of lead pipe in water systems or leadbased solder on water pipes. Water in the plumbing system can dissolve lead from pipes and solder. This is called leaching. Soft, corrosive or acidic (low pH) water is more likely to cause leaching. Water left standing in the pipes over a long period of time also increases leaching. The longer the water stands in the pipes, the greater the possibility of lead being dissolved into the water. Stray electrical currents from improperly grounded electrical outlets or equipment also may increase the level of lead in drinking water. And pipes that carry drinking water from the source to homes can contribute lead to the drinking water, if the pipes were constructed or repaired using lead materials.
Can I lower the lead in my water?
Yes, the amount of lead can be easily lowered in most cases. To reduce the amount of lead in water:
* Run the tap until water is cold to the touch before using it for drinking or cooking. This is especially important after the water has been standing in the pipes overnight or over many hours. (The flushed water can be saved for watering house plants, washing dishes or general household cleaning.)
* Use only cold tap water for cooking, drinking or making a baby's formula. Hot water is more likely to leach lead from pipes and solder.
* Check household plumbing for leadbased pipes or solder. A plumber can help.
* Use only lead-free materials in all plumbing repairs or new faucets and pipes. The use of lead solder in plumbing was banned in New York State in 1986. Ask the plumber to show you the label from any solder packaging being used. It should state that the solder is lead-free."
As for how to test and filter your water, they suggest contacting a local health department for names of approved laboratories, and only using approved filtering devices. Activated carbon filters like Brita and Pur do reduce lead, but its always good to double check to make sure whatever filter you're considering is certified/approved by the National Sanitation Foundation as there are bogus products on the market. If you find out you have lead service lines, replace replace replace.
Since developing kids are especially susceptible to absorbing lead and because exposure to lead in the early years can cause so many serious problems including learning and behavioral issues, do consider getting your lead level tested when thinking about getting pregnant or newly pregnant. And certainly follow your pediatrician's advice on testing your young child for lead. It's pretty standard to test around age one. Water isn't the only exposure to lead -- paint is considered more common -- but it's certainly a direct route to be careful about.