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Worried about lead in your water? A health expert shows us your in-home options

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Posted at 4:35 AM, Oct 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-22 10:51:38-04

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. (WXYZ) — From lead to chlorine, iron to arsenic, mercury to microorganisms, no tap water is totally free of contaminants. But health experts will tell you there is no safe level of lead exposure in your water.

So, here are some ways – both large and small – to try to have safe, healthy drinking water (even bathing water) for you and your family.

FLINT IS NOT ALONE

More and more cities in Michigan are reporting elevated levels of lead in the water.

The Flint Water Crisis prompted more stringent protocols in testing water quality around the state of Michigan.

Among the latest cities to show elevated levels of lead in the drinking water are Birmingham, Garden City, and Hamtramck.

At Union Barber in Birmingham, people had been buzzing about the news of lead in some of the city’s water.

“Worried about clean water?” I asked Birmingham resident Jason Coleman.

“Not really. Not so much,” he replied.

“Even after they found lead in 5 sites?”

“Well, I heard it was in very specific locations,” he responded saying his wife was looking into it.

Hair stylist Lauren Brown who works at the barber shop said she filters water in four places in her Southfield home.

“Our shower and our kitchen sink and our cats’ drinking water. So, we do all three main sources of water in our house. Oh, and our sink in our bathroom,” said Brown. “I haven’t figured out my washing machine yet. But I will figure that one out.”

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Lauren Brown's cat Wednesday guards her water bowl which happens to be filtering her water.

Union Barber owner Mathew Abraham lives on well water in Clarkston and uses a whole house purifier with a water softener. He said he is definitely worried about lead in his water.

“We’re living in an older house, too. So, I don’t know if the water’s clean or if my pipes have lead either. So that’s another thing,” said Abraham.

Because of that fear, Abraham and his family drink bottled water.

KNOW WHAT’S IN YOUR WATER

If your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, a test can be done to check the quality of your tap water.

If you want to test your water to find out what contaminants you have, you can contact your local health department for more information or call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800)426-4791.

Or you can visit the State Certified Drinking Water Laboratories.

If you’re on private well water, you must test and treat your drinking water on your own. Here’s a CDC link to know what to test for and when.

According to Consumer Reports’ 2019 Water Quality Survey, a majority of people have never had their water tested, and more than 2 out of 10 who did have their water tested discovered it had unsafe levels of some contaminants.

OPTIONS FOR FILTERING YOUR HOME’S WATER

WATER FILTER PITCHER

Health and wellness expert and author Cassie Sobelton of Birmingham said the most affordable option for filtering water is a water filtration pitcher – most of them cost about $20.00 to $50.00.

Replacement filters are an additional cost.

A typical filter handles up to 40 gallons of water.

A con with the pitcher is that the flow rate is only as much as the cartridge capacity can handle. Plus, these smaller filters may not remove all the contaminants you have in your water.

“They don’t filter everything. So, you have to be pretty specific. If you know you have lead pipes coming in, make sure you’re looking for a filter that filters lead,” explained Sobelton who has been filtering her home’s water for more than 15 years.

FAUCET-MOUNTED FILTERS

She said you can also choose faucet-mounted filters which run from about $20.00 to $180.00.

Pur Classic Faucet System, for example, is an affordable option that costs around $20.00 at stores like Target and allows you to flip a switch for filtered or unfiltered water.

Many of them feature monitors that let you know when you need to change the filter. Some models can provide about a hundred gallons of filtration before needing replacement.

Just take note that not all mounts fit all faucets. If that is a problem, countertop water filters could be your answer.

UNDER-SINK WATER FILTERS

The benefit with under-sink water filters is that all of the water passing through your tap at that sink will be filtered.

These filters are bigger and last longer than countertop, faucet mount, or pitcher options. They also reduce more contaminants than the smaller options.

Of course, an under-sink water filter will cost about $450.00, Sobelton said.

She explained that these require fewer filter changes – maybe about one a year – and little maintenance.

She has one under her kitchen sink.

REVERSE OSMOSIS SYSTEM

Sobelton didn’t stop there. She also has a whole house Reverse Osmosis system – which takes virtually all minerals out – both the good and the bad, she noted.

This is a major investment. She spent about $7,000.00.

And depending on the size system and the installation fee – it could cost thousands more – totaling anywhere from $12,000.00 to $18,000.

Sobelton even included an ultraviolet light purification system to help purify and disinfect the water for her whole house.

When it comes to adding UV filters, ESP Water Products, for example, offers a variety of UV systems – including ones suitable for homes with 1-to-3 bathrooms priced from $409.00 to $2,165.00.

Sobelton admitted that the reverse osmosis system wastes gallons of water in the process.

So, it’s not the greenest option, and your water bill will be higher.

WHOLE HOUSE WATER FILTRATION SYSTEM

But there are other whole house filtration systems that don’t waste water.

Sobelton showed one from Lansing-based Element Free Inc. which cost about $1200.00.

She said that these systems leave the “good” minerals but take out lead, chlorine, and mercury, etc.

Carter Briggs from Element Free Inc. told 7 Action News that this filter uses copper-zinc granules that reduce contaminants and filter any soluable heavy metals in the water through oxydation.

Professional installation is required. Filters are changed annually. So, overall there is little maintenance required.

“The larger the system, the more you’re going to be filtering out of it which is beneficial. And you’re going to be showering and bathing and cooking in that water – which so many of us underestimate how much, how many of the contaminants are coming in through our skin,” said Sobelton.

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Lauren Brown installed a shower head filter in her bathroom because she's concerned about her skin.

SHOWER HEAD FILTER

Sobelton added that a more cost effective option for bathing is installing a shower head filter - which can run around $40.00.

The installation is relatively easy and the filter can be a good alternative for reducing contaminants in bathing water.

When selecting one, make sure you don’t get confused with a shower head softener – which only softens hard water; it does not filter water.

The Flintwaterstudy.org reported that bathing or showering in lead contaminated water is really not a significant concern.
However, during the Flint water crisis persistent reports of rashes, hair loss, and itchiness surfaced despite government scientists reporting they had not found evidence that the city's lead-tainted water was unsafe for bathing.

Federal and state officials have repeatedly said residents cannot get lead poisoning from bathing in lead-laced water unless they ingest it.

WATER DELIVERY SERVICES

For strictly cooking and drinking, Sobelton said companies like Xanadu offer water delivery services featuring 3-to-5-gallon BPA-free jugs of filtered water for $4.00-to-$6.00 a jug.

The company also offers dispensers that can be rented for $10.00/month or sold for about $200.00.

Keep in mind that ordering water is more expensive than filtering your tap water.

Bottom line, the CDC says the United States has one of the safest public water supplies in the world, but filtering water can help remove chemicals, heavy metals, bacterial contaminants and more.

Because of our story, Element Free inc and Xanadu are offering discounts on some of their products and services using the discount code “WXYZ.”