Lead in water linked to brass plumbing

Nov. 14, 2010 at 12:13 AM

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Nov. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers warn even new buildings' brass plumbing components can create serious lead-in-water health problems that could go undetected.

Ingesting lead -- a heavy metal that can harm the nervous system -- is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. Lead pipes and solder have been banned for use in water lines for decades.

Study leader Carolyn Elfland of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and colleagues found high lead levels in water in their new buildings and asked Virginia Tech researchers for help.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Water Works Association, explains how the problem disappeared when certain ball valves -- later found to have as much as 18 percent lead by weight on inner surfaces in contact with drinking water -- were removed.

Since the average overall lead content was just under the 8 percent limit allowed by law, the valves were listed as passing the lead-leaching standards of the National Sanitation Foundation International -- the plumbing industry's national standard-setting body.

"People have a right to expect that drinking water in brand-new buildings will not be contaminated by lead, and building owners should not have to go the effort and expense the University of North Carolina does to ensure that expectation is met," Elfland says in a statement. "In my opinion, this is a major regulatory failure."

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