Lead Contamination in Water

Lead Contamination from Service Lines

The main contributing factor to water contamination are lead service lines that bring water to people’s houses, place of work and schools. Water oftentimes has no contamination prior to being brought somewhere, but due to lead service lines the water becomes contaminated. This is due to the natural erosion caused by the water passing through the pipes. As the service lines corrode, lead leaches its way into the water. This is a problem because there are 677,359 lead service lines in Illinois. Recently, the town of Galesburg has been making efforts to eliminate lead service lines and will do so by the end of 2023. With the reduction of lead service lines, there will be less water contamination, as long as the water is coming from clean sources.

Lead Contamination in Drinking Water

Drinking water is essential for our life. Without water, we can not survive. It is suggested that a person should have eight glasses of water every day. When coming to the topic of lead contamination in Drinking Water, we need to first understand how lead occurs in drinking water. There might be multiple reasons, but according to EPA, the sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures. Even low levels of lead in the blood can affect the child’s IQ, and learning problems. Young children are more vulnerable than adults to lead, this is because young children’s bodies begin to develop at early stages. Even a small amount of lead can impact young children.

Lead Contamination in Non-Drinking Water

Of course, we use water for more than just drinking. Among many other activities water is also used for hygiene, cleaning, and cooking. When evaluating the safety of lead contaminated water it is important to also take these activities into consideration. In regards to hygiene, lead is not easily absorbed into skin so it is safe to bathe in water with more than 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. However, if you are bathing young children or animals it is important to remember that water can still enter their mouth while bathing and so it may be best to use uncontaminated water. Water with lead above 15 ppb should NOT be used for brushing teeth or for rinsing your mouth. In the same way that lead does not easily absorb into skin it also does not cling well to surfaces and so it is safe to use water with more than 15 ppb of lead for cleaning dishes and doing laundry. When preparing or cooking food you should NOT use water with lead levels above 15 ppb. Instead, you should only use bottled or properly filtered water. It is also important to note that boiling water does NOT remove lead and so boiling lead contaminated water before using it for cooking or drinking does not make it safe to consume.

Lead Contamination Flowchart by Elise Connoley


CDC. “Lead in Drinking Water.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Feb. 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/sources/water.htm#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20sources%20of,1986%20may%20also%20contain%20lead.

David, John. “Aging Pipes Leaking Lead into Galesburg Drinking Water for Decades.” Wqad.Com, 5 Apr. 2016, https://www.wqad.com/article/news/local/drone/8-in-the-air/aging-pipes-leaking-lead-into-galesburg-drinking-water-for-decades/526-bf9ba391-c94e-41a8-a228-9b0126086a02.

EPA. “Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water.” EPA, 27 Jan. 2023, www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water.

Illinois Department of Health. “Lead Service Lines.” Illinois Department of Health. https://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/lead-in-water/lead-service-lines.html.

Lisec, Samuel. “Galesburg OKs Final Phase of Replacing Lead Water Lines, Liquor License for Showgirls,” Galesburg Register-Mail, https://www.galesburg.com/story/news/local/2022/07/06/galesburg-oks-final-phase-replacing-lead-water-lines/7821196001/

McCormick, Erin, et al. “Revealed: The ‘Shocking’ Levels of Toxic Lead in Chicago Tap Water.” The Guardian, 21 Sept. 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/21/lead-contamination-chicago-tap-water-revealed.

NCEH. “Flint, MI: Frequently Asked Questions.” Readiness and Emergency Managment for Schools, 7 Apr. 2016, rems.ed.gov/docs/03-07-16-FlintFAQ.pdf.

Oregon Health Authority. “Lead and Drinking Water.” Oregon Health Authority : Resources and Forms, Aug. 2016, www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/HEALTHYENVIRONMENTS/DRINKINGWATER/MONITORING/Documents/health/lead.pdf

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