The dangers of lead in water supplies are the same as those associated with lead-based paints, which is why lead-lined pipes and lead-based solder was banned years ago, along with the paintings. But, in some of the older cities around the US, those pipes are still in place. They have yet to be replaced.
In older homes, the pipes may still have a high enough lead-content to pose a health hazard. Older cities are, once again, the areas of greatest risk. Researchers have identified some cities in which the water should be regularly tested for the contaminant at the point of use (meaning your home), not just at the treatment facility. Detroit, DC and Baltimore are three of the cities that have been pinpointed.
Testing is a reliably simple matter. Homeowners serviced by a public treatment facility can contact their local provider and ask to have testing conducted. The facility will provide a collection container. You will be advised to take the sample first thing in the morning, before the faucets are used for any other purposes. The lead water content is higher in the morning after sitting in the pipes all night.
The facility will have the sample tested and should notify you with the results. It may be necessary to contact the facility. There have been consumer complaints in Michigan about the facility's failure to provide the residents with their results.
If your home has a private well and your pipes are relatively new, testing for the heavy metal should not be necessary. But, other contaminants should be tested for a regular basis, to maintain a consistent record of your well's quality.
An alternative to testing for lead in water is to purchase and install a point of use or home purifier. Scientists indicate that there is no safe level of exposure to the heavy metal. It builds up in the soft tissues and the cells of the brain, causing cognitive damage. Chronic long-term exposure may play a role in Alzheimer's.
When the facility returned the testing results, it would usually say "below the federal action level". That does not mean that none of the heavy metal was found. It simply means that the content was lower than what would require action by the treatment facility.
The most effective purifiers for reducing the lead water content are those that include an ion exchange step. Ion exchange, as the name implies, exports ions of lead for harmless potassium or sodium, electrolytes that are good for your health and improve taste.
If you do a little shopping, you can find a purifier that includes a number of steps to remove the widest range of contaminants. Chlorine and THMs are some of the most common contaminants. Chlorine or chloramines spoil the taste and cause digestive problems. THMs are byproducts formed when waters are disinfected. Exposure to them increases our risk of cancer. So, even if there is no lead in water, a home purifier is still a good investment.