Why Your Drinking Water Has Lead in It

Got this message in my email this morning (bear with me):

From March 21 through May 1, the disinfectant used for drinking water treatment will temporarily switch from chloramine to chlorine. This change is part of an annual program to clean water pipes in the District and maintain water quality throughout the year. This years temporary switch will be a shorter duration than last year.

A temporary switch to chlorine is a standard water treatment practice for systems that use chloramine the majority of the year. The Washington Aqueduct is the organization responsible for treating drinking water in the District.

Individuals and business owners who take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water, such as dialysis centers, medical facilities and aquatic pet owners, should continue to take the same precautions during the temporary switch to chlorine. Most methods for removing chloramine from tap water are effective in removing chlorine.

During this time, you may notice a change in the taste and smell of your drinking water. DC Water recommends running the cold water tap for five to 10 minutes.

True story: most places used to use chlorine to keep water clean. Chlorine in high doses is poisonous to humans but is fine in the amount we put in our water, especially considering the value of potable water. After September 11 people got worried about having large vats of chlorine sitting around water treatment plans, so we switched to using chloramine to purify water. Well, chloramine reacts with lead. DC’s water system has loads of lead solder connecting its pipes. So when they started putting chloramine in the water, it started breaking down the solder in the lead pipes and releasing it into the water. Small bits of chlorine in water: not a big deal. Lead in water: very big deal.

In actual, this is really happening in 2011 fact, what we’ve done in DC is put real, poisonous lead in our drinking water to prevent against hypothetical terrorism.