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How to Test for Lead in Your Drinking Water

The EPA recommends reaching out to certified laboratories but that might be difficult for more rural communities.

Huge areas of New York City are supplied by water that is contaminated with lead. A recent Reuters investigation found that key areas face higher levels of lead exposure than those documented in Flint, Michigan at the height of their water crisis. Parents are already paranoid, and now it seems they have good reason to at least second-guess what’s coming out of their taps. But there are things that even average parents can do to protect their families from lead.

The age of your home is a distinct concern, as lead exposure frequently comes from old pipes. “Lead pipes are more likely to be found in older cities and homes built before 1986,” an EPA spokesperson told Fatherly. “Older homes with a private well can also have plumbing materials that contain lead.” The easiest way to determine if your home contains lead pipes is to contact your local water company and ask. For DIY dads, however, a water line sight-check may be in order. After exposing a portion of the pipe, rub the outside with the edge of a flathead screwdriver. If it reveals a silvery, shiny surface and a magnet does not stick to the pipe, it is likely lead.  

Even if a home does not have lead pipes, there is a possibility that the water system contains high levels of lead. All municipalities are mandated to document the quality of their water (including lead levels) in an annual Consumer Confidence Report. These can be found on the EPA’s website. However, that does little to assuage fears between annual releases. It also does little for those who have difficulty trusting authority. That’s when home tests come into play.

“EPA recommends that consumers wishing to learn more about the concentration of lead in their drinking water use certified laboratories,” the agency spokesperson explains. Most states have EPA certified laboratories around major metropolitan areas that can test water samples for the public. One such lab near Akron, Ohio will perform a test for inorganic chemical compounds (including lead) for $30, and throw in a sample container and instructions for collecting samples.

The problem with certified labs however, is that they can be far from rural communities and the cost is generally higher than the cost of home testing kits that can be purchased at big box stores or via Amazon. While those kits have not been evaluated by the EPA, they can give families a glimpse into the relative safety of their drinking water. These kits can be purchased for as little as $15, can be found at most hardware stores, and deliver results in as little as 48 hours. More robust versions like those from Tap Score can cost up to a couple hundred dollars more. In the end, it comes down to how much a person wants to pay to drink without paranoia.