Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead From Water?

Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead From Water _ Best At Home Lead Treatment Filter

Let’s be clear on one thing, any amount of lead in your drinking water is too much! We can be exposed to lead from many sources and even ingesting minor amounts can have serious effects. Because of the dangers lead poses to children and adults, you must know how to protect your family’s drinking water from being tainted by this toxic element.  But what is the best treatment method? Does reverse osmosis remove lead?

In this article, we will discuss the risks associated with lead exposure, how to test for the presence of lead in drinking water, and how to treat it using the reverse osmosis system.

What Is Lead And Where Does It Come From?

Lead (Pb) is a soft and malleable metallic element that is denser than most metals. As a naturally occurring element, lead can be found in trace levels throughout the planet’s crust. It is still used in battery manufacturing, gasoline, and metal smelting [1]. Therefore, lead may be present in every part of our environment including water, soil, and air.

Lead exposure is harmful and toxic to people and animals. For instance, human activities such as using fossil fuels, including the once-common use of leaded gasoline, certain industrial facilities, and the one-time use of lead-based paint in homes, account for a large portion of our exposure. 

And maybe you didn’t know that lead and lead compounds have been utilized in some of your everyday household items. They can be found in your ceramics, toys, jewelry, imported food in cans, ammunition, and cosmetics.

How Does Lead Get Into Drinking Water? 

Older cities and homes constructed before 1986 most commonly have lead pipes. However, lead can get into your home’s drinking water in different ways. Here are the primary sources of how lead makes its way into water:

  1. Lead Pipes: The most common source of lead are lead pipes in homes built before 1986.
  2. Faucets & Fixtures: Older faucets and fixtures inside your home may contain lead.
  3. Lead Services Lines: The pipes connecting your house to the local water supply can be a primary source of lead in drinking water.
  4. Copper Plumbing With Lead Solder: Solder made before 1986 contained high levels of lead.
  5. Corrosion Of Galvanized Pipes: Lead particles can attach to the surface of galvanized pipes and enter your water over time, especially in highly acidic or low-mineral water areas. 
Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead _ Lead Contamination Map Infographic
Population served by water systems with 90th percentile lead samples above 1 PPB [1]

Although lead pipes were banned with the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986, it is still an issue we should all be deeply concerned with. It’s estimated that there are currently up to 10 million lead service lines operating throughout the United States [2]. This means a staggering amount of our country is still at risk for lead contamination.

“186 million people in the United States get their water supply from systems that still use lead service lines”

EPA Lead Exposure Data

The Negative Health Effects Of Lead Poisoning 

Lead poisoning occurs as lead is built up in the body over time or even with short-term exposure in high amounts. It is a potent neurotoxin that inhibits neuron communication and causes cell death [1]. Even a small amount of lead ingestion can have significant health impacts. Lead poisoning symptoms include:

  • Difficulties with concentration and memory
  • Abdominal pain
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Children are at especially high risk from lead exposure. Minimal levels have increased physical and behavioral impacts on children than on adults.

In children, lead exposure results in behavior and learning problems. This includes reduced IQ, delayed growth, hearing defects, and anemia. Furthermore, lead poisoning is extremely rare but can result in seizures, coma, and even death.

For pregnant women, lead can also pass the placental barrier, putting the fetus at risk. This can seriously affect the woman and her unborn children, such as reduced fetal growth and premature birth [3]

In adults, lead poisoning can cause heart problems, increased blood pressure, declined kidney function, and reproductive health problems. Additionally, post-menopausal women have been shown to have higher blood lead levels that may mobilize from bone demineralization [4].

What Is the EPA’s Acceptable Amount Of Lead In Drinking Water?

The EPA has established a Lead Action Level in water delivered to users of 15 ppb [5]. However, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.

With the maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs), EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal of zero for lead in tap water because it is a toxic heavy metal that is harmful to our health [6]. Although these levels are non-enforceable, it recognizes the serious risks even at low exposure levels.

To comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, plumbing fixtures must have no more than 0.25 percent lead by weight as an average across their entire surface. Even though this is negligible, it’s still important to remember that “lead-free” does not always guarantee “no lead,” and know that even trace levels of lead can seep into your drinking water supply.

The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has also set a limit of 5 ppb in bottled drinking water that doesn’t use lead pipes [7]. Bottled water must be collected, sampled, and tested to be found safe and sanitary under the FDA guidelines. Again though, any level above zero is not safe for consumption.

How To Avoid Lead Exposure In Your Home? 

If you suspect lead in your water supply or have found it in your plumbing, you may take steps to lessen the quantity of lead in your water and lessen your risk of exposure to it. Here are some aspects that you should consider

Lead Plumbing

It is recommended that all drinking and cooking water be filtered if a lead service line is present.

Drinking or using only tap water that has been put through a “point-of-use” filter that has been approved by an independent testing agency to reduce or remove lead (NSF/ANSI standard 53 for lead removal and NSF/ANSI standard 42 for particle removal) can reduce or eliminate your exposure to lead in tap water.

Temperature Of Water

Only use cold water directly from the tap for consumption or preparation of food. Lead levels can be greater in water that’s warm or hot to the touch when you turn on the tap. You won’t be able to get rid of the lead in your water by boiling it.

Drinking or using only bottled water approved by an independent testing body can eliminate your exposure to lead in water. However, this might not be the most budget-friendly choice regarding sustained use.

Acidity Of Water

It’s a good idea to neutralize the acidic water as a precautionary measure to stop corrosion and reduce lead exposure. When the water’s pH is lower than 6.5, the lead concentration might rise to dangerous levels. Note that a lower pH (below 6.5) means more lead can be leached from these fixtures.

Water Sitting In Pipes or Flush Plumbing

Water can accumulate lead in pipes if left there for extended periods. For water that hasn’t been used for at least six hours, running the tap for one to three minutes until it’s cold can assist flush the pipes of any sediment that may have settled to the bottom. 

So make sure to water the run before you use it for anything – especially for cooking or drinking. You can use this water to water your plants or for something else that doesn’t involve drinking.

How To Test For Lead In Drinking Water?

Get Your Water Tested

The best at-home method for detecting lead and heavy metals in water is a lab test from Tap Score. It includes a pH test strip to check the water’s pH level. Therefore, knowing the pH of water is essential when designing water filtration and treatment systems to get rid of lead.

Check Consumer Confidence Reports

Check out the Consumer Confidence Reports to see the outcomes of recent water quality tests in your region.

The Consumer Confidence Reports are an excellent resource for researching the quality of your local water supply. This is also known as the water quality report.

Check The EWG Database

You can acquire a free comprehensive report on the safety of your community’s water supply safety by searching the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database. Users may simply type in their ZIP code and find out what contaminants are in their water and how those levels compare to state and federal norms and health guidelines.

How Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead?

Lead contamination treatment in water supplies can be a challenging task. This is because lead is soluble in all natural water with pH levels between 6 to 8, so water that contacts lead plumbing will become heavily concentrated [7]. Fortunately, RO systems are able to efficiently eliminate lead and other common chemical contaminants from the water supply. 

Under pressure, unfiltered water is forced through a semipermeable membrane in a reverse osmosis (RO) system. The membrane’s tiny 0.0001 micron pores effectively remove harmful substances like lead while allowing clean H2O molecules through.

Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead _ RO Lead Treatment Diagram Infographic

As the purified water passes through, the RO membrane is flushed with additional water to cleanse it of contaminants. Thus, heavy metals like lead, copper, chromium, and arsenic are eliminated with this procedure [8].

How Much Lead Does Reverse Osmosis Remove?

Reverse osmosis filtration systems will remove over 99% of lead from drinking water. This is meaningfully better than alternative treatment options like granulated activated carbon (GAC) or ion exchange filters that can remove approximately 95% of lead.

Thus, you should seek a water filtering system that can effectively eliminate as much lead as possible. A few percentage points difference in the elimination rate can significantly increase exposure to the toxic metal.

What Other Heavy Metals & Chemicals Are Removed By Reverse Osmosis? 

Reverse osmosis can, in fact, get rid of more than just lead. Remember that a reverse osmosis filter’s pores are typically no bigger than 0.0001 microns. That’s why they’re so effective at removing the following:

  • Mercury
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Chromium
  • Arsenic
  • Chloride
  • Fluoride
  • PFAS

What Other Filters Take Lead Out Of Water? 

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC or Charcoal Filters)

Activated carbon effectively removes contaminants, including lead, magnesium, and many others. However, not all carbon-activated filters effectively get rid of lead. Filter cartridges are soon used up and must be replaced. After filtering a specific amount of water, the filters’ ability to remove lead declines, albeit the rate of decline varies with filter quality and power output.

Ion Exchange Resins

In ion exchange, it’s a physical-chemical process wherein a liquid stream is directed through a resin substrate contained in one or more columns. The resin’s ionic charge allows it to be used to precipitate out specific contaminants in a solution. Facilities employ either a strong acid cation (SAC) or weak acid cation (WAC) resin for lead removal applications.

Distilling Water

Distillation is a method of purifying water based on the natural evaporation process. Lead and other impurities are removed by water distillers because they cannot be transformed into steam, therefore they are left behind as the water condenses. The water becomes pure and safe to drink as soon as it condenses.

Distilling water is an effective lead treatment, but it is time-consuming and energy intensive. It is important to consider the differences between reverse osmosis and distilling. The upside is that because distilling is a natural process, it is able to be made at home for free!

Drawbacks of Using Reverse Osmosis For Lead Treatment 

Water Waste

Some water will be wasted due to the amazing amount of filtration provided by RO. The average RO system will waste 4 gallons of water for every 1 gallon of purified water. The most workable solution for avoiding waste is to save it for future applications. Thankfully there are now more much more efficient systems that have a 1:3 waste ratio, meaning they only use one gallon of water for three gallons of purified water.

Removes Healthy Minerals

The reverse osmosis filtration process is so effective that it even removes healthy minerals. The list includes calcium, potassium, magnesium, and more. We know these essential minerals are beneficial to our health for peak performance. Fortunately, there are many ways to remineralize RO water.

That said, water is not a significant source of mineral intake for our bodies. Food and a balanced diet play a much greater role. The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted food is the primary source of both magnesium and calcium for our daily required intake.

Expensive

Reverse osmosis systems have a higher price on average than other filtration methods. That said, the system has a low cost per gallon of water generated, even after accounting for the initial investment cost and ongoing maintenance.

Like all home treatment solutions, filter replacements and other forms of regular maintenance are required. While RO systems require little in the way of upkeep, they should be cleaned and sterilized annually at the very least.

FAQs For Reverse Osmosis Lead Removal 

How to remove lead from water naturally?

Filters using either reverse osmosis or distillation were necessary to get rid of the lead.  Letting the water run for two minutes before each usage is another preventative measure that may be taken to get rid of lead. However, this is not the best solution as it wastes water and does not guarantee that your water is safe for drinking. 

Do Brita Filters remove lead?

Brita water filters are composed of activated carbon pearls and ion exchange pearls, which collectively remove contaminants like lead, copper, mercury, and limescale from drinking water.

Article Sources

Freshnss uses only the highest-quality sources to support the facts used in our articles including: government organizations, independent studies, peer-reviewed journals, and lab testing results. Read our editorial review guidelines here to learn more about how we verify and fact-check our writing to keep our content reliable, accurate, and trustworthy.

  1. Assessing the Lead Solubility Potential of Untreated Groundwater of the United States, Environmental Science & Technology 
  2. A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC)

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