Staying Safe From Lead

Sept. 15, 2017

About the author: Shukri Elmazi is product manager for Xylem Applied Water Systems. Elmazi can be reached at [email protected].

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With increased national focus on lead in drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations to modify the definition of lead-free plumbing products based on the 2011 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. WQP Editor-in-Chief Kate Ferguson spoke with Xylem’s Shukri Elmazi about how the regulations would affect manufacturers and the public, and how homeowners can protect themselves from lead contamination.

Kate Ferguson: How will manufacturers have to change their processes to meet these regulations?

Shukri Elmazi: When you look at the major manufacturers of water pumps, they all carry NSF/ANSI Standard 61 Annex G or NSF/ANSI Standard 372. The companies that may not carry it are some of the folks that are trying to penetrate the market from ... other areas of the world where their governments do not require similar certifications. They may be OK to use in Europe or OK to use in China or wherever, but when it comes to the U.S., they do not necessarily hold the same certifications. If the end user of the product is not requesting it or looking for it, sometimes the installers of pumps are not necessarily looking for it themselves. It’s almost an education on the part of homeowners or end users to look for certifications like the NSF logo on products.

Ferguson: How can lead affect those using well water?

Elmazi: When you use well water, the materials used in most cases, other than the pump, tend to be plastics or galvanized steel, which do not contain lead. For the most part, they are safe, assuming the pump is already NSF listed. Where they may run into trouble is on the piping inside their homes. If you go in your basement or the crawl space of your house and you see copper piping, there’s a chance, depending on the age of your house, that the solder could have had lead in it. That would be more of the concern. Some of the older homes would have that. Older well systems would generally be some sort of plastics or galvanized steels—generally, they don’t tend to use lead piping. It’s only generally on the inside of homes where you’ll find the lead piping.

Ferguson: What recommendations do you have for homeowners to ensure their water is safe from lead?

Elmazi: There are a couple of things they can do. There are test kits they can use to test their water if they have concerns, especially if they’re on a well system. The other avenue is they could do a check ... it’s fairly simple to get an idea of what kind of pipes you have in your home. For instance, you can see if it’s plastic fairly easy. If it’s a shiny metal, it could be copper. If it’s a dull metal, it could be galvanized steel or even lead. By taking a coin or knife or screwdriver—something that has a decently sharp edge on it—you can scratch the surface. Copper tends to look just like a shiny penny. If it’s galvanized steel, it tends to look like a dull scratch. If it turns shiny and feels a bit soft, that could be a lead pipe. That’s when you would either get a test kit or call a professional and have [him or her] do a professional evaluation.

Ferguson: Are there different concerns for homeowners using a municipal water source?

Elmazi: For a homeowner who’s on municipal water, like myself, you can get one of these test kits and test the water yourself. Also, I would recommend ... calling your local municipality and just ask questions. Sometimes, you get enough individuals posing questions to the government that they will need to either take action or start an investigation, because in older communities, there could still be lead pipe in the ground. We don’t want another Flint, Mich., happening, right? I think that that did get a lot of media attention, which is great—it got people concerned on lead. I think the path there is to start questioning the municipality. Bring it up at board meetings. It’s asking the questions. When you ask questions in scenarios like that, where it’s being broadcast or there are more folks involved, everyone gets concerned, especially when you say “lead.” It will cause the municipality to do the checks themselves.

I just think we need to stress as manufacturers, and in the media too, understanding how important these certifications are. As a manufacturer, we go after every certification we can. There’s obviously the NSF certification for drinking water, and then there are certifications in electrical safety. The last thing you want to do is have someone get electrocuted ... so there are lots of standards and certifications we strive for as a company and for our products so that we can provide quality products, but also safe products to the end users. I think once we start talking about the safety aspect and what it could do to our children or it could do to ourselves, people need to understand and raise a voice. That’s how things will get done, is asking for it. 

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