Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a common metal found in the environment. Drinking water is one possible source of lead exposure. Brass faucets, fittings, and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free,” may contribute lead to drinking water, but the main source has been shown to be lead pipes (or water service lines).

The source of water for the Village of South Holland comes from Lake Michigan which does not contain lead. When water is in contact with service lines or plumbing that contains lead for several hours, the lead may enter drinking water. Homes built before the 1960s in South Holland are more likely to have lead service lines and lead in solder and plumbing fixtures.

Don’t forget, most lead exposure is still from small children ingesting lead paint, dust, and soil. In addition, lead can be found in certain types of pottery, pewter, brass fixtures, food, and cosmetics. Other sources include exposure in the work place and exposure from certain hobbies (lead can be carried on clothing or shoes). Lead is found in some toys, some playground equipment, and some children’s metal jewelry. Wash your children’s hands and toys often as they can come into contact with dirt and dust containing lead.

What is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health effects.

Where is Lead Found?

Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities including the use of fossil fuels, including past use of leaded gasoline, some types of industrial facilities and past use of lead-based paint in homes. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition and cosmetics.

Lead may enter the environment from these past and current uses. Lead can also be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, such as former lead smelters. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, mining, smelting and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites. Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to reduce the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.

Who is at Risk?


Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil or from playing with toys with lead-based paint.

Adults, Including Pregnant Women

Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breathe lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure, as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

Lead Exposure Data

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics monitors blood lead levels in the United States. Get information on the number of children with elevated blood lead levels, and number and percentage of children tested for lead in your area.

According to CDC (PDF)

  • The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
  • Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead level of concern if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. Experts now use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children). Currently that is 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. The new, lower value means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.

EPA uses the CDC data to show trends on blood lead levels in children in America’s Children and the Environment.

What are the Health Effects of Lead?

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead.


Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Pregnant Women

Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother’s bones along with calcium and can pass from the mother exposing the fetus or the breastfeeding infant to lead. This can result in serious effects to the developing fetus and infant, including:

  • Cause the baby to be born too early or too small;
  • Hurt the baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system;
  • Increase the likelihood of learning or behavioral problems; and
  • Put the mother at risk for miscarriage.

Read more on the health effects of lead

Steps You Can Take to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Your Drinking Water

  1. Run your water to flush out lead.
  2. Running water for 1 – 2 minutes at the kitchen tap should clear the lead from your household plumbing to the kitchen tap. Once you have done this, fill a container with water and store it in the refrigerator for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula throughout the day.
  3. Use cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula.
  4. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
  5. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.
  6. Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  7. Look for alternative sources or treatment of water.
  8. You may want to consider purchasing bottled water; or
  9. Purchase a water filter that is certified to remove “total lead”. The filter should be NSF 53 and NSF 42 certified.
  10. Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Remove the entire lead service line.
  11. If the plumbing in your home is accessible; you may be able to inspect your own plumbing to determine whether you have a lead service line. Otherwise, you can request that the Village inspect your water line, or hire a plumber to inspect it for you.
  12. Clean and remove any debris from faucet aerators on a regular basis.
  13. Purchase lead free faucets and plumbing components.
  14. As part of the separate Lead Service Line Replacement program, should you agree to participate, the Village will replace your lead service line from the water main to the meter inside your home.
  15. Test your water for lead.
  16. Call us at 708-339-2323 to find out how to get your water tested for lead. While we do not do the testing, we can provide a list of laboratories certified to do the testing. Laboratories will send you the bottles for sample

collection. Please note that we are not affiliated with the laboratories, and they will charge you a fee.

If test results indicate a lead level above 15 ug/L, bottled water should be used by pregnant women, breastfeeding women, young children, and formula-fed infants.

  1. Approximately one month after service line replacement, testing is recommended. The sample should be a first-draw sample after water has not been used for at least 6 hours. The sample must be collected from a tap used frequently inside the home, preferably from the kitchen.
  2. As a precaution, until the sample is collected and analyzed, it is recommended to do a mini-flush of premise plumbing by running tap water each morning or when the water sits in the pipe for at least 6 hours. Flush for 5 minutes to displace water that has been sitting in the pipes inside the house and in the service line. This could include taking a shower, running the dishwasher, flushing a toilet, collecting water for plants/garden, or running the faucet. Do this before using any water for drinking, cooking, infant formula, and so on. Daily mini-flushes should continue for six months or until lead sample results show the lead level is below the regulatory guideline. Clean debris from aerators and screens once a month for six months. After six months, clean debris twice a year.