Newswise — The lead scare in Flint, Michigan is making a lot of parents and homeowners question if their water is safe enough for their children to drink.

The good news is that many cities have taken measures during the last two decades to greatly reduced exposures to lead in tap water. However, we do know that the water pipes and water fixtures in some homes may have lead. The concentration of lead in water can vary depending on how long the water has been in the pipes and if water is hot or cold. You can take steps to keep the lead concentration in the water you use for cooking and drinking very low.

Helen Binns, MD, head of the Lead Clinic at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and one of the country’s leading experts in lead, tells families who use tap water for cooking and drinking to use cold, flushed water to ensure that the levels of lead in water are as low as possible.

If you have lead in your water system (or if you don’t know or want to be as protective as possible) a good place to start is by: 1) Thoroughly flushing the water; this means run the cold water for 5 minutes. 2) After that, fill some pitchers with cold water and store in your refrigerator for cooking and drinking use. 3) If you need more water for cooking or drinking, flush the system again for another 5 minutes. 4) Water filters can reduce lead in water, but check on filter specifications, as not all filters remove all the lead.5) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a full explanation on how to reduce lead in water.

According to the CDC, you cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water. If you have concerns about the water in your home, have it tested.

Lead exposure in children can lead to problems with learning and behavior. No safe level of lead exposure has been found, so it is important to keep lead exposures very low. Many children are still being exposed to lead-based paint, which was used before 1978. Particularly if you have concerns about deteriorating paint in your building, check the CDC website for advice on actions that will lower exposures to lead in dust and soil. If you have questions about your water or about paint in your home, consider calling the city at 3-1-1 for guidance on how to get these tested.

The best thing parents can do to lessen the effects of lead exposure on their child is to give their brain a “good cushion.” You do that by reading, playing, singing, etc., with your child which promotes the healthy brain development that every child needs. Also, provide your child with the nutritious foods needed for healthy growth.

Helen Binns, MDAnn & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of ChicagoProfessor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

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