LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 5 no 3,  1997. ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Lead in Household Drinking Water

By Tresna Karras, Tresna Karras Communications

Common household plumbing could be causing lead levels in water 30 times higher than background (< 3 g/L) according to CSIRO Chief Research Scientist, Dr Brian Gulson (1)

Dr Gulson (1) said that even though the water supplied by major water authorities contained lead levels below International standards and appeared perfectly safe, water left standing overnight in the home’s own plumbing system absorbed significant amounts of lead.

Surprisingly, the highest reading from Dr Gulson’s research (1) were from houses with the newest plumbing. He said that new housing estates were of particular concern, as research so far indicated that houses less than five years old had a greater problem particularly in the first couple of years.

The habit some people have letting the water run for a while before drinking a glass of water may actually be beneficial to their health, as the initial high level of lead can be cleared back to normal levels. However, this can only be achieved after running the tape for considerable amount of time, discharging at least 10 litres of water (1) This is a very expensive and wasteful solution.

The problem is greatest for pregnant and nursing mothers the unborn and infants on formula. According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the unborn and young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead in the body. Infants can absorb up to 50 percent of lead entering their gut compared with 10 percent in the case of adults.

Research clearly shows that high levels of lead being absorbed into the body can seriously affect a child’s learning and even behaviour. Recent US papers even suggest a strong link to violent behaviour and delinquency in young adults.

With the decline in lead exposure from petrol and food since the early 1970’s drinking water is assuming greater importance as a contributor to blood lead.

To reduce lead exposure, people who like to drink water first thing in the morning or wish to make a hot drink should fill the kettle the night before, after washing up is completed. For making milk formulas, water from the night before should be used.

Alternatively, water from a water filter system such as Brita can be used.

Managing Director of Brita Australia, Mr Michael Fisher asked Dr. Gulson and the CSIRO to conduct an independent trial to determine the effectiveness of the Brita jug filter system in removing lead and other harmful substances from tap water in actual "real life conditions".

The results of a six-month program in a number of Sydney and country NSW homes comparing the results with a laboratory "standard" have been recently published in an international journal (5)

A total of six newly-built houses were selected. Four of these were in Sydney where the composition of water is relatively homogenous and the other two were from country areas in NSW. The Brita Aquafine jug was used at each location.

His results revealed that of those homes with lead levels in first flush water high enough to be a health risk, the Brita filter removed 80 percent or more of the lead so reducing the level to well within regulatory guidelines. The report also noted that Brita was effective in removing cooper (generally more than 80 percent removed in the tests).

Commenting on the report, Mr Fisher said, "Dr Gulson’s report clearly shows that our claim for the Brita filter in removing lead and other toxic metals is supported in real life situations."

"Water conservation is always important particularly in light of the recent long-term drought reports"

"Brita gives you a simple, effective and economical- way to ensure that your water has minimal and perfectly safe lead levels, all the time. And wont need to waste 10 litres of precious water a day," Mr Fisher added.


  1. Brian L. Gulson, Alistair J. Law, Michael J. Korsch, Karen J. Mizon. Effect of Plumbing Systems on Lead Content of Drinking Water and Contribution to Body Burden, Science of the Total Environment Volume 144, Issues 13, 29 April 1994, Pages 279284.
    Abstract: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0048969794904472

  2. United States EPA

  3. Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., Charles Gunnoe, ED.D., Alan Leviton, M.D., Robert Reed, Ph.D., Henry Peresie, Ph.D., Cornelius Maher, Ph.D., and Peter Barrett, B.S. Deficits in psychologic and classroom performance of children with elevated dentine lead levels. N Engl J Med. 1979 Mar 29;300(13):689-95.
    Abstract: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM197903293001301

  4. Herbert L. Needleman, MD; Julie A. Riess, PhD; Michael J. Tobin, PhD; Gretchen E. Biesecker; Joel B. Greenhouse, PhD "Bone Lead Levels and Delinquent Behaviour" JAMA. 1996;275(5):363-369. February 7, 1996
    Abstract: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/275/5/363.abstract

  5. Brian L. Gulson, Ann Sheehana, Angela M. Giblina, Massimo Chiaradiaa, Berti Conradt. The Efficiency of Removal of Lead and other Elements from Domestic Drinking Waters using a Bench-top Water Filter System, Science of the Total Environment 196 (1997), 205,216.
    Abstract: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969796054010

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