Abstract

The pervasiveness of lead in drinking water poses a significant public health threat, which can be reduced by implementing preventive measures. However, the causes of elevated lead in water and the benefits of lead in water avoidance strategies are often misunderstood. Based on experiences in the United States, this paper describes an oversimplified ‘lead in water equation’ to explain key variables controlling the presence of lead in drinking water to better inform public health practitioners, government officials, utility personnel, and concerned residents. We illustrate the application of the equation in Flint, Michigan and explore the primary household-level water lead avoidance strategies recommended during the crisis, including flushing, filtration, bottled water use, and lead pipe removal. In addition to lead reduction, strategies are evaluated based on costs and limitations. While these lead avoidance strategies will reduce water lead to some degree, the costs, limitations, and effectiveness of these strategies will be site- and event-specific. This paper presents a simplified approach to communicate key factors which must be considered to effectively reduce waterborne lead exposures for a wide range of decision makers.

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