I've read reports about how thousands of localities in the US have severe lead contamination of their tap water (and lead is a very dangerous substance to imbibe at any concentration). On the other hand, answers here on the site, e.g. the accepted answer to:

Is tap water in US safe to drink?

claim that

Virtually all municipal water systems in the United States provide clean and safe drinking water.

So, which is it? And more importantly - how can I tell whether tap water where I'm staying in the US is really safe to drink?

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    The article you linked identifies thousands of communities that have elevated rates of lead poisoning. I didn't see any discussion in the article of whether those places have lead in their tap water. It seems to mainly talk about poisoning due to lead-based paint or soil contamination. May 15, 2017 at 5:28
  • There isn't any way to know with certainty whether the water is safe to drink in any particular place at any particular time, unless you travel with your own portable laboratory. But I suppose you are aware that every community is required to conduct regular testing of their water supply (at least annually, I believe), and publish the results. May 15, 2017 at 5:30
  • Moreover, the statistic studied in the article is: among children who are tested, what percentage test positive? But they don't appear to make any attempt to control for the sampling bias, as far as which children are tested, and they don't compare the number of positive tests to the overall population. So it's hard to conclude that the places they mention are actually riskier. May 15, 2017 at 5:39
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    If you are only going to stay in the US for a short time, the question is irrelevant. Long-term exposure (years) to low levels of lead is the issue.
    – user40521
    May 15, 2017 at 8:29
  • Lead-related issues are really more a long-term exposure type of problem, but to be on the safe side, don't drink from garden hoses.
    – Ivan
    May 15, 2017 at 20:41

1 Answer 1


The report you cite does not contradict the answer you cite. The report did not as you claim find "thousands of localities" with "severe lead contamination of their tap water." Rather, the report concerns blood lead levels in children, which can be, and often are, elevated by causes other than lead in municipal water:

Reuters conducted a nationwide analysis of childhood blood lead testing data at the neighborhood level.

The report only uses the word "water" in describing the situation in Flint and in discussing Milwaukee:

The city still has 135,000 prewar dwellings with lead paint, and 70,000 with lead water service lines. Most of its poisoning occurs in a few zip codes, where Baker says $50 million has been spent to protect children.

By contrast, discusses lead paint at some length. A sampling:

  • In explanation, she pointed to the peeling paint on her old house. Kadin, she said, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning.
  • Like Flint, many of these localities are plagued by legacy lead: crumbling paint, plumbing, or industrial waste left behind.
  • Since the heavy metal was phased out from paint and gasoline in the late 1970s, children’s average blood lead levels have dropped by more than 90 percent. That success story masks a sober reality in neighborhoods where risk abatement has failed.
  • St. Joseph, Missouri, is filled with old homes that for a century featured lead paint and plumbing. From 2010 to 2015, more than 15 percent of children tested in seven census tracts here had elevated lead levels – well beyond the Missouri average of 5 percent.
  • McCush, a certified lead inspector, says his office told one family that sanding paint off their walls was poisoning their son. “The dad said we were full of baloney,” he said. “He wasn’t going to stop working.”
  • At son Kadin’s one-year doctor visit, Mignery was told his lead levels were so high that, without quick intervention, he would need to be hospitalized. An inspector visited the home and found the culprit: old peeling lead paint. The family could only afford a partial fix. “It wasn’t easy having to repaint all the rooms downstairs,” she said. “We want to do the outside here, too.”
  • Across the street is the old rental house where, as a baby, Brandon was exposed to peeling lead paint.
  • A mile away, in Milwaukee’s census tract 88, Isaiah Martin, 18 months old, recently ingested old paint in a family home and on the porch outside
  • In the 1990s, starting at age 2, Gray lived in a row house in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester area tainted with old lead paint, ...
  • Edward Brown Jr., 2, was first tested last year. He’d been living with his mother, Victoria Marshall, in a central South Bend home. An inspector found lead paint inside and contaminated soil outside.

Finally, the answer you cite recognizes the circumstances reported by Reuters:

Some old buildings may have old pipes that can impart an off taste or even leach lead into the water. While it may be worth testing for lead someplace where small children will be living for years, I wouldn't be concerned about an adult taking a five week course. You should also avoid eating peeling paint.

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    "You should also avoid eating peeling paint." - Let's agree that eating any paint from the wall, peeling or not is not advisable. :D
    – user4188
    May 15, 2017 at 6:51
  • 1
    I grew up in a house with lead paint and can confirm it is quite tasty. I also recommend taking my word for it and not trying it yourself. May 15, 2017 at 8:03

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