Amount of lead allowed in drinking water halved

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Ben Kaczmarek tests drinking water treatment systems at NSF International to the new lower lead threshold. (Photo courtesy of NSF International)

The maximum allowable concentration of lead in treated drinking water has been reduced to five parts per billion (ppb) by the joint committee governing the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for drinking water treatment was responsible for the change.

Standards 53 and 58 now require drinking water treatment units to reduce the lead in drinking water five ppb or less – a 50 per cent decrease from the previous 10 ppb – and a threshold that matches Health Canada’s new maximum allowable concentration level of five ppb.

The new lead pass/fail criteria was published for NSF/ANSI 53: Drinking Water Treatment Units – Health Effects and NSF/ANSI 58: Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems.

Previously, a water treatment system could be certified if it reduced lead to structural integrity. These other requirements remain unchanged. Updates to both standards were published in December and are effective immediately for any new filter or filtration device claiming to reduce lead. These changes were originally made in March 2019.

To be certified by NSF International, drinking water filters and treatment devices are tested with water containing 150 ppb lead.

The World Health Organization and other public health organizations have concluded there is no safe level of lead, and that even low concentrations can cause adverse health effects, especially for infants and children.

The primary source of lead in drinking water is from the use of lead pipe or lead-containing alloys in supply lines and plumbing, fixtures, fittings and solder. Given this widespread use, the cost of replacement and repair with non-lead contaminating materials can be cost-prohibitive.

“Lead contamination of drinking water remains a critical issue, and regulations continue to be put into action to reduce the allowable level of lead in drinking water,” said Jessica Evans, director of standards development at NSF International. “Establishing this new pass/fail criterion of five ppb for NSF/ANSI 53 and NSF/ANSI 58 will further limit health risks associated with lead ingestion and provide an additional measure of public health protection.”

NSF/ANSI 53 and NSF/ANSI 58 and their updates are developed following the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) process. The Drinking Water Treatment Units Joint Committee is comprised of stakeholders representing consumers, the water industry, and state and federal health and environmental agencies in the U.S. and Canada.

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