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The Berrien County Health Department monitors elevated blood lead levels in at-risk children around Berrien County. Our public health nurses provide individualized case management, education, and resources for families who have children with elevated blood lead levels to help them identify lead exposure risks and create a healthy home.
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Lead is a metal that was commonly used in:
Most exposure to lead is from paint dust, paint chips, and soil contaminated with lead. Lead can also get into your body by drinking or cooking with water containing lead. Young children’s bodies absorb lead more easily than adults, and lead can be passed from a mother to her unborn child. For these reasons, lead in drinking water can be a source of exposure for pregnant women, young children, and infants that are fed powdered formula.
Lead is not absorbed through the skin. Bathing or showering in water containing lead is okay.
Lead water pipes can sometimes be found in older homes. Drinking water faucets manufactured before 2014 were allowed to contain up to eight percent (8%) lead. This lead can sometimes find its way into our drinking water.
Lead found in drinking water is soluble or particulate. Soluble lead is lead that is dissolved in water. Particulate lead is small pieces of lead from lead-containing material. Either type of lead can get into your drinking water when pipes or faucets containing lead begin to break down or dissolve. The amount of lead that can end up in drinking water depends on:
Flush your pipes before using your water if it has sat still for more than 6 hours. If you have not used your water for several hours, flushing your pipes may reduce the amount of soluble (dissolved) lead in your drinking water. To flush the pipes in your home, do any of the following for at least five minutes:
Before using the water from any specific faucet for drinking or cooking, run the cold water again until goes from room temperature to cold. This flushes out any water that had been sitting in that sink’s pipes and faucet.
Using a filter can reduce lead in drinking water. Households with children and/or pregnant women should use a lead-reducing filter. If you are not able to afford the cost of a lead-reducing filter, contact the Berrien County Health Department.
Both particulate and soluble lead can be safely removed from drinking water by using a water filter certified to reduce lead in drinking water. Look for filters that are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for lead reduction. The U.S. EPA also recommends that the filter be certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 42 for particulate reduction. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install the filter and maintain it.
Use cold filtered water for:Mixing powdered infant formula (using your typical process). It is OK to warm the cold filtered water as needed.
Use cold filtered or flushed water for:Drinking, cooking, or rinsing food or brushing your teeth.
Do not use hot water for drinking or cooking.Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
It’s okay to use water that’s not filtered or flushed for:Showering and bathing. Avoid swallowing the water if lead is a concern.Washing your hands, dishes, clothes, and for cleaning.
Don’t try to remove lead by boiling the water.It won’t work. Water evaporates during boiling, so levels of lead in the water may end up higher than before boiling.
Clean the aerators on your faucets.Aerators (the mesh screens on your sink faucet) can trap pieces of particulate lead. Clean your drinking water faucet aerator at least every six months. If there is construction or repairs to the public water system or pipes near your home, clean your drinking water faucet aerator every month until the work is done.
Replace plumbing, pipes, and faucets that may add lead into your drinking water.Older faucets, fittings, and valves sold before 2014 may contain up to 8% lead, even if marked “lead-free.” Replace faucets with those made in 2014 or later and are certified to contain 0.25% lead or less.
Lead can enter drinking water when it comes in contact with pipes or plumbing fixtures that have lead service lines or internal plumbing made with lead. The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. The most important thing you can do is run your water for at least 5 minutes before you drink, cook, or use your water washing fruits and/or vegetables.
Lead in drinking water can enter your blood and build up in the body over time. Children under 6 years old are most at risk of harm to their health. If you are pregnant, lead can harm your unborn baby. Adults are less likely than children to be harmed by lead in water.
Lead exposure in babies and young children can cause serious health problems. Some of the health problems may never go away. Lead in a child’s body can:
Unborn babies build bone from calcium found in their mother’s bones. When calcium is released from the mother’s bones to her unborn baby, lead stored in her bones is released too. Lead can also cross the placenta. Lead can:
Good nutrition is one way to protect your family from lead. Include calcium, iron, and vitamin C in your family’s diet. This may help keep lead from being absorbed in the body.
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about exposure to lead from drinking water or other sources. Your doctor may choose to order a lead blood test. A lead blood test can tell you how much lead may be in your blood.
The Berrien County Health Department is offering lead blood testing at their Benton Harbor location at 2149 E. Napier Ave. You can also talk to your family doctor if you’re concerned that your child has been exposed to lead or is at risk of lead exposure.
In Michigan, a blood lead level (BLL) of five (5) micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher is considered elevated, or high. Most people who have an elevated blood lead level do not look or act sick. A blood lead test is the only way to determine a blood lead level. Talk with your doctor or the Berrien County Health Department about getting a lead test for your child if:
Children under the age of 6 are at the highest risk for elevated blood lead levels. Lead can harm a child's growth, behavior, and ability to learn. Lead exposure happens when children come in contact with lead, generally from lead-based paint, or possibly from lead plumbing supplying drinking water. A simple blood test can determine the level of lead in your child's blood. Contact your family doctor or the Berrien County Health Department to ask about getting a lead test for your child if you believe they may have been at risk of lead exposure.
Your public water supplier may provide water testing kits for residents who would like to test their water for lead. Call your municipal water system for more information. If they do not offer free testing, you can contact a certified lab to have your water tested. This test usually costs around $30. To find a certified lab, visit Michigan.gov/EGLELab and choose “Drinking Water Laboratory."
The water test is free for Benton Harbor City water customers. There will be no cost for water testing for Benton Harbor residents.
A service line connects the water main in the street to the plumbing in your house. The municipality owns and maintains service lines starting at the water main located in the street to the customer’s stop box (water valve near the sidewalk). Customers own the service lines from the stop box to their home.
To find out, you can:
Water Service Line Questions: Contact your municipal water supplierGetting Water Tested: Contact your municipal water supplierGetting a Water Filter: Berrien County Health DepartmentGetting a Lead Test for a Child: Berrien County Health DepartmentSafe Drinking Water Act Questions: Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy