Drinking Water Consumer Notice

What Are the Health Effects of Lead?

Anyone can suffer health effects from exposure to lead, but lead is most dangerous to children younger than six years old and people who are pregnant. Lead can hurt a child’s brain and nervous system and slow down growth and development. People exposed to lead as children can have lifelong difficulties with learning and behavior and may have trouble paying attention.  Even small amounts of lead can harm a child.  Lead poisoning is preventable.

What Are the Sources of Lead?

Lead can be found in many places in and around the home.  Children in Rhode Island are most often exposed to lead through lead-based paint and paint dust found in homes built before 1978.  Over time, lead-based paint can peel or crack. Children may accidentally breathe or swallow lead dust or lead paint chips. Lead can also be found in soil around the home, some spices, and some pottery, crystal, or ceramic dishes.

While it is rarely the primary cause of lead poisoning in Rhode Island, drinking water can also be a source of lead.  Lead and galvanized steel pipes were used in water infrastructure for much of the 1900s and were banned from use in Rhode Island in 1978.  Lead solder was used to fuse pipe segments together until 1987. If a building was built or plumbed before 1987, it could have plumbing materials containing lead.


How Does Lead Get into Drinking Water?

As plumbing materials age, they begin to wear away (called corrosion). If they are made with lead, it can get into the drinking water. When water sits still and remains in contact with plumbing materials containing lead for a period of time, the lead may dissolve into the water. If water has not been used for several hours – for example first thing in the morning or when you get home from school or work – it may have elevated levels of lead.


Steps You Can Take to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water

  • Treat the water. Some water filters can remove lead from water. This water is safe to use for drinking and cooking. To request a water filter please contact BCWA, and a filter pitcher and six months of filter replacements will be provided to you, along with filter use instructions. Follow the instructions for the installation (if applicable), use, and maintenance of any filter.  Change out replacement cartridges according to the filter instructions.

Note: Water softeners and reverse osmosis units will also remove lead from water but can make the water more corrosive to lead solder and plumbing by removing certain minerals.  The installation of these treatment units at the point of entry into homes with lead plumbing should only be done under supervision of a qualified water treatment professional.

  • Run the cold water to flush out lead, even if you have a filter. Flushing the tap means running the cold-water faucet for 3 to 5 minutes before using the water for drinking or cooking. Lead can build up in water when it sits still in the pipes. Flushing the pipes (or letting the cold water run before using it) will remove the water that may contain higher lead levels. Flush the pipes before using water for drinking or cooking any time the water has gone unused for more than six hours.

Flushing tap water is a simple and low-cost measure you can take to protect your health. It usually uses less than one gallon of water. See the attached flier or visit the Rhode Island Department of Health website https://health.ri.gov/water/about/lead/ for more detailed instructions on flushing your plumbing.

  • Use cold water for preparing baby formula, even if you have a filter. It is recommended that bottled or filtered water be used for drinking and preparing baby formula. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and then heat it.
  • Use cold water for cooking, even if you have a filter. Because lead from lead-containing plumbing materials and pipes can dissolve into hot water more easily than cold water, never drink, cook, or prepare beverages using hot water from the tap. Boiling water can kill bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing organisms, but it will not reduce lead levels.
  • Remove and clean aerators/screens on plumbing fixtures, even if you have a filter. Aerator screens are located at the tip of the faucets. Over time, particles and sediment can collect in the aerator screen. Remove and clean aerator screens every two weeks.

Protect Your Child from Lead – Information from the Rhode Island Department of Health

Get your child tested for lead. Lead can be measured in the blood. Your child should have at least two blood lead screening tests by three years of age. Contact the Rhode Island Department of Health or your healthcare provider to find out when their most recent lead screening test was and the results. Your family doctor or pediatrician can perform a blood test for lead and provide you with information about the health effects of lead. In Rhode Island, lead screening is a mandated coverage health insurance benefit and is free of charge. Learn more at health.ri.gov/lead.

Get your home tested for lead. If your home was built before 1978, it likely has lead-based paint. A licensed lead inspector can inspect your home and test the paint and soil for lead. Most rental housing built before 1978 is required to have a Certificate of Lead Conformance, showing the property has passed a lead inspection. Contact RIDOH to learn more about lead inspections.

For More Information

Contact us at 401-245-2022.   For more information on reducing lead exposure around your home and the health effects of lead, visit the Rhode Island Department of Health website health.ri.gov/lead or contact your health care provider. For more information about lead exposure through drinking water visit https://health.ri.gov/water/about/lead/.