New York City is known for exceptionally clean drinking water. Over a billion gallons, most of it unfiltered, reaches over 8 million city inhabitant daily. Yet, despite one of the most comprehensive water treatment and testing regimens in the county, some remain concerned about their water quality after cities like Flint, Michigan made headlines with a series of water treatment errors that led to high levels of lead in the municipal drinking supply.
At present, New York City has a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allows most of its public drinking supply to go unfiltered as long it meets stringent safety criteria. Although the water isn’t filtered, it is disinfected and treated with orthophosphate, a lead inhibitor that coats pipes, and sodium hydroxide, a substance that decreases the natural acidity of water, discouraging corrosion in lead-containing plumbing fixtures.
In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed to protect the public by regulating public drinking water supplies, but while this legislation addresses potential contamination at the source, it doesn’t guarantee that holding tanks, pipes and fixture won’t introduce harmful contaminants. In fact, although New York City has an excellent reputation for protecting its public waters, enforcement of regulations for the cleaning of holding tanks has been questioned by water safety advocates, while it remains highly cost-prohibitive to retrofit old pipes and remove lead from existing plumbing fixtures.
Regulations are in place to reduce lead, but older buildings may still have pipes with lead solder and fixtures that contain lead if they were installed before 2014 when plumbing fixtures were allowed to have up to 8% lead. Today, even so-called lead-free models can still have up to 0.25% lead in the surfaces that come into contact with water.
Water quality monitoring that exceeds safety requirements is done daily in New York City and citizens can be comfortable with the overall integrity of their public water. But, once the water leaves the reservoir, what can residents do to ensure that their water is lead-free?
According to the EPA, several steps will reduce the amount of lead in drinking water. Since lead has no color, taste, or odor, testing is the only way to detect it. A certified lab can test water for as little as $20 and if lead is found, taking the following steps will improve water safety.
– Before drinking, flush pipes by running tap water it is noticeably colder.
– Clean the faucet aerator regularly.
– Install a whole home or faucet water filter. Check reviews of home water filtration systems to find a model that is as effective as possible at reducing lead and other concerning contaminants. Pitcher filters improve the taste of water, but won’t remove lead.
Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that can have severe and irreversible health effects. The best advice for residents of New York City is to enjoy their clean water, but take sensible precautions to protect themselves from harm by getting the lead out.
Roland Hanna is a native New Yorker. He lives just outside the city with wife Marie and two kids and their dog, Harper.