A UNC Water Institute study - Occurrence of Lead and Other Toxic Metals Derived from Drinking-Water Systems


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A UNC Water Institute study - Occurrence of Lead and Other Toxic Metals Derived from Drinking-Water Systems

Dear Colleagues:

Below is the summary and a link to the full-text of a recently published study by the UNC Water Institute:

Occurrence of Lead and Other Toxic Metals Derived from Drinking-Water Systems in Three West African Countries . Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2021.

Authors: Michael B. Fisher, Amy Z. Guo, J. Wren Tracy, Sridevi K. Prasad, Ryan D. Cronk, Emily G. Browning, Kaida R. Liang, Emma R. Kelly, and Jamie K. Bartram

: Exposure to toxic metals (TMs) such as lead can cause lifelong neurodevelopmental impairment and other adverse outcomes. TMs enter drinking water from human activity, geogenic contamination, and corrosion of water system components. Several studies report TM contamination in piped systems and private wells in high-income countries (HICs). However, few robust studies report on TM contamination in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Objectives: We characterized the occurrence and investigated sources of TM contamination in 261 rural water systems in three West African LMICs to inform prevention and management.

Methods: Water samples were collected from 261 community water systems (handpumps and public taps) across rural Ghana, Mali, and Niger. Scrapings were collected from accessible components of a subset of these systems using a drill with acid-washed diamond-tipped bits. Samples were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma (ICP) mass spectrometry or ICP optical emission spectroscopy.

Results: Of the TMs studied, lead most frequently occurred at levels of concern in sampled water system components and water samples. Lead mass fractions exceeded International Plumbing Code (IPC) recommended limits for components in 82% of systems tested; brass components proved most problematic, with 72% exceeding IPC limits.

Presence of a brass component in a water system increased expected lead concentrations in drinking-water samples by 3.8 times. Overall, lead exceeded WHO guideline values in 9% of drinking-water samples across countries; these results are broadly comparable to results observed in many HICs. Results did not vary significantly by geography or system type.

Discussion: Ensuring use of lead-free (<0.25%)components in new water systems and progressively remediating existing systems could reduce drinking-water lead exposures and improve health outcomes for millions. However, reflexive decommissioning of existing systems may deprive users of sufficient water for health or drive them to riskier sources. Because supply chains for many water system components are global, TM monitoring, prevention, and management may be warranted in other LMICs beyond the study area as well.
Dan Campbell,
Communications/KM Specialist
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