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High lead levels found in some water samples at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston

By Christopher Robinson | JBSA Environmental Health Operations Program Manager | July 10, 2018


During routine sampling completed in May, 21 samples of drinking water in buildings or residences taken from throughout Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston exceeded the action level of lead from outside sinks.


Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children.


The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, and JBSA-Fort Sam Houston civil engineers are concerned about these lead levels in the drinking water. Although most sinks had low levels of lead, some had high lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, action level of 15 parts per billion, or 0.015 milligrams of lead per liter of water.


While this is not a violation under federal or state law, it does prompt JBSA-Fort Sam Houston to post lead public education information, and if found to have a high level reading in subsequent sampling, a program in place to minimize lead in the drinking water.


This program may include adding corrosion control treatment, source water treatment, and if necessary, replacing lead service lines. For questions about how the 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron is carrying out the requirements of the lead regulation, call at 210-671-7061.


Health Effects of Lead


Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.


The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults.


Lead is stored in the bones and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother’s bones, which may affect brain development.


Sources of Lead


Lead is a common metal found in the environment. Drinking water is one possible source of lead exposure.


The main sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust or soil, as well as some plumbing materials. In addition, lead can be found in certain types of pottery, pewter, brass fixtures, food, and cosmetics.


Other sources include exposure in the work place and exposure from certain hobbies (lead can be carried on clothing or shoes). Lead is found in some toys, some playground equipment and some children’s metal jewelry.


Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning can significantly increase a person's total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water.


The EPA estimates drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person's total exposure to lead. Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes.


Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or the wearing away of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect your house to the water main (service lines).


In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2 percent lead, and in 2011 restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 0.25 percent.


When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing systems containing lead for several hours or more, the lead may dissolve into the drinking water. This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead.


Sone steps to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water


1.     Run water to flush out lead. If it hasn’t been used for several hours, run the cold water tap until the temperature is noticeably colder. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes. To conserve water, remember to catch the flushed tap water for plants or some other household use, such as cleaning.


2.     Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water.  Don’t use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.


3.     Do not boil water to remove lead.  Boiling water will not reduce lead.


4.     Look for alternative sources or treatment of water. You may want to consider purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Read the package to be sure the filter is approved to reduce lead. Be sure to maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality. Contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or the NSF International website at http://www.nsf.org/ for information on performance standards for water filters.


5.     Get your child’s blood tested. Contact your local health department or healthcare provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead, if you are concerned about exposure.