© 2023
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Lead Found in Well Water Tests

Virginia Household Water Quality Program

There’s no argument about the fact that any amount of lead in drinking water is unsafe. 

No matter how much, it’s too much, of this potent neurotoxin. 

But lead has been showing up in well water tests around Virginia. About a fifth of the state’s residents get their water from wells.

Lead does not occur naturally in Virginia’s groundwater, instead, it’s a problem of civilization, namely, indoor plumbing. 

“It seems to be coming from what they call ‘lead free’ in quotation marks, brass, which until January of this year, could only contain up to eight percent lead,” says Erin Ling, who coordinates Virginia’s Household Water Quality Program.  She says across Virginia, they’re seeing around 20% of well and spring - supplied homes exceeding the health action level for lead ?(15 parts per billion) set for public systems.

“There’s two definitions of lead free, one applied before 2014, the other is applying after 2014,” says Marc Edwards, a world expert on lead in drinking water from Virginia Tech.

“The older definition devices have some very serious issues that we’ve written a lot of papers on ultimately Obama put a law into place to ban those devices.”

Edwards says testing by his lab on the new, 2014 plumbing fixtures being marketed as lead free, do in fact meet the standards for safety, but he says well owners beware.

“You can still buy some of those on the Internet.  They’re supposed to be illegal to sell in stores but it’s not enforced, so there could be some of the older lead free devices still on the shelves.  I’ve seen the internet selling clearance sales of these banned devices so they could be installed in a newer home.”

That said, Edwards points out, there’s an easy fix.  Many water filters including some pitcher models can easily and inexpensively filter lead from water. But you have to know it’s there. The Virginia cooperative extension offers low cost water testing and hand holding through the process in 45 counties each year or every other year, in yours.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
Related Content
  • With a businessman in the governor’s mansion and a legislature talking about cutting costs, one environmental group is moving to assure that there’s…