A Solution on the Horizon

March 22, 2019

Examining the need for point-of-entry lead solutions

About the author:

Meghan Stout is vice president, marketing and communications, for Protect Plus PRO LLC. Stout can be reached at [email protected].  

The mainstream news continues to be dominated by headlines about Flint, Mich.’s water crisis with no immediate and affordable solution in sight. Recent U.S. EPA reports indicate the majority of the country’s aging infrastructure is in a similar state. While national, state and local regulations have done a good job of ensuring that water leaves a municipal water treatment facility in safe conditions, the crumbling infrastructure between the facility and the tap can introduce distasteful and even dangerous contaminants. 

A History of Lead

The problems run deep and are more than a century old. As our cities were built, standard plumbing was made from lead. The word “plumbing” itself comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. As these pipes and joints age, they degrade and particulate lead flakes off. By 2020, experts estimate that the average American pipeline will be 45 years old. Some have been in the ground for as many as 150 years.

Municipalities nationwide used lead service lines extensively from the late 1800s, peaking in the 1930s. At the same time, residential buildings also used lead piping. Over time, residential usage declined, but did not stop until the EPA banned lead pipes as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1976. 

For years, consumers have turned to in-home filtration systems that address issues such as microbiological contaminants and rust, but there has never been a robust system available to address the growing lead problem.

Hidden Danger

There are two types of lead found in water. One is relatively easy to remove. The other is more complex. Soluble lead, also known as 6.5 pH lead, typically comes from groundwater sources and can be removed through a chemical process that many filtration companies have mastered. Particulate lead, or 8.5 pH lead, comes from environmental pollutants, such as paint and plumbing, and is much more challenging to remove. Few certified products are available that can remove particulate lead at flow rates and capacities high enough for point-of-entry (POE) applications.

In Flint’s case, the problem came when the city changed its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River as part of a cost-savings initiative. The new water source had a higher pH and essentially stripped the insides of the lead pipes. Other cities face similar problems when they switch from traditional chlorine to chloramines. While chloramines do offer benefits such as being more stable than chlorine, those chloramines can cause lead to leach from pipes, fixtures and solder. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) estimate that at least 4 million households have children living in them being exposed to high levels of lead. More than a half million U.S. children under the age of five have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which the CDC recommends public health action, but no safe level has been identified. 

Lead poisoning is particularly dangerous for children under 6. Lead builds up in the body, or bio accumulates, and even small amounts can cause serious health problems, such as severe mental and physical development, impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems, and delayed puberty. Some organizations estimate more than 300,000 children per year are diagnosed with unsafe levels of lead in their blood. Overall, the CDC estimates that 2.5% of small children have elevated levels.

Many adults are seeing health issues decades after exposure, including high blood pressure that cannot be controlled with medication. While lead tends to leave the blood quickly, it settles into teeth and bones. Stressful conditions, as well as aging, menopause, pregnancy, kidney disease, thyroid problems and other health issues can release the lead from the bones.

Municipalities are working on long-term solutions to replace lead pipes, but the process will take decades and as much as $300 billion. At the same time, houses built prior to 1976 also may face the daunting and costly task of replacing pipes inside of walls.

Consumers that have lead in their water face significant health concerns with few options. Bottled water is costly and the only viable alternative for drinking or cooking needs. Some filtration pitchers work well, but not all are certified for soluble and particulate lead. That still leaves concerns for the safety of water used for bathing and laundry.

The industry and consumers need a POE filtration system that is high-flow and high-capacity to meet the daily demands of a busy home. It is not feasible to expect citizens to continue battling such a critical issue with a refrigerator pitcher or a faucet-mount filter with an average flow rate of 0.5 gal per minute (gpm). 

Protect Plus PRO is launching technology this spring that will address the issue. A new POE filter has a flow rate of 8 gpm and has been certified to remove more than 99% of pH 8.5 lead over its entire filter life. The proprietary technology is designed to capture a combination of particulates, as well as soluble and insoluble lead and is priced to be accessible to families across the country. 

“This technology has been in development for several years,” said Arvind Patil, Ph.D., vice president, research and development for Protect Plus Technologies. “We are very pleased with the outcome and look forward to getting this system installed around the country. It’s going to make a big difference in peoples’ lives.”

The system is made in the U.S. and is designed to be installed and maintained by professionals, but is easy to service. The lead is captured by media in a manner that does not allow it to be released. The product’s filter cartridges are safe for handling with bare hands, as well as landfill disposal.  

About the Author

Meghan Stout

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