Recently the news has been full of references to lead problems including lead in drinking water, apple sauce and underground electrical cables. Here’s some information that may help sort out the scope of these problems.
Lead [Pb] has been an important metal since antiquity. It is commonly refined from the mineral Galena [PbS] which is found in deposits throughout the world. Lead has a low melting temperature [328 0C] which, while it makes it easy to refine, it also makes it easy to vaporize and become airborne which is very hazardous to those breathing it. However, the current issues here are a result of ingestion of lead and not its inhalation.
Lead is not very soluble in most waters. The Flint, Michigan crisis was caused by the switch to an acidic water source which in turn leached lead from old, corroded pipes. Lead ingested via water, food, etc. is absorbed through the GI tract and roughly 10-15% ends up in the blood system. Lead in the blood causes many issues, most related to neurological problems, especially in children.
The use of lead water pipes has never been a good idea. Vitruvius, a 1st century bce Roman engineer, concluded that, “water ought by no means be conducted in lead pipes”. He based this on his observations of the terrible appearance of the plumbers he saw melting the lead to make the pipes. However, we never seem to learn. Most lead in drinking water comes not from lead pipes but lead solders used on copper, cast or galvanized iron or other metals. Lead solder used in drinking fountains/coolers is a good example.
Lead has been used to cover/sheath underground utilities for many years. Among other benefits it provides a very corrosion resistant covering. The primary public health concern is with the lead ending up in the drinking water. To get there it first must be dissolved in water [rain, etc.] and then migrate through the ground to the drinking water source(s). So far these lead sheathed cables have not been shown to be a serious threat to our water supply. However, if children ingest and/or play in soil from the immediate area of these old lead sheathed cables that presents a serious concern.
There are simple and inexpensive test strips used to estimate lead concentrations in water and/or soil available online. I’m sure Amazon has them.
Any questions just give us a call.
 Pb – derived from the Latin Plumbum meaning “waterworks”.
 Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture. Book VIII.