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GET THE LEAD OUT: PREVENT LEAD POISONING IN DRINKING WATER

 GET THE LEAD OUT: PREVENT LEAD POISONING IN DRINKING WATER
 ST. PAUL, Minn., March 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Rome may have fallen because of it. And it may have been one of the reasons why Marie Antoinette decided to dispense her fateful culinary advice.
 The culprit is lead. Ingesting it even in minute quantities by the mouth, as the Romans did from cooking in pewter pots and from lead water pipes, or through the pores of the skin, as in the case of 18th Century aristocrats with their white-lead makeup, can wreak terrible physical and neurological damage, from reduced I.Q. to infertility to dementia and even death.
 The dangers of lead have long been recognized by the medical community. But recent findings suggest that previous notions of "safe" levels of lead in human beings may be too high by a factor of 10. And that has triggered a renewed burst of concern about the presence of lead in our air, houses, and -- perhaps most worrisome of all -- water supplies.
 "Evidence suggests that water-borne lead poses an even greater risk than lead that we breathe or eat," said Ed Fierko, president, EcoWater Systems, a manufacturer of residential water treatment systems. Adults absorb about 35 percent to 50 percent of the lead they ingest in water while children absorb 50 percent or more. Cases of lead poisoning have been found among infants whose parents fed them formula; boiling water to sterilize it resulted in concentrated levels of lead.
 In response, the EPA has lowered the acceptable level of lead in water by 70 percent and is shooting for a goal of zero contamination. But the scope of the problem, combined with regulatory inertia, makes it highly unlikely that American drinking water will be completely lead- free anytime soon.
 At the moment, some 40,000 public water supply systems will probably not meet the new EPA standards which are being phased in over the next year and a half. That means that approximately one out of every six Americans may be exposed to excessive levels of lead by way of drinking water. Children are at greatest risk; in a cruel twist, lead is particularly hard on developing neurological systems.
 Despite the imminent danger, the EPA is giving utilities up to 30 years to implement new standards which require, among other things, that utilities monitor tap water in homes -- instead of at treatment plants. The distinction is important: almost all lead leaches into water after it leaves the treatment plant. Among the primary culprits: lead pipes in old houses and lead-based solder in contemporary copper pipes.
 Meanwhile, consumers who hope to escape contamination by turning to the growing number of bottled waters on the market may be in for an unpleasant surprise -- there is little effective regulation in the industry, and many companies draw their water, unfiltered, from municipal supplies. In other words, just because it's bottled doesn't mean that it's any "purer" than what flows from your kitchen tap.
 "With some kinds of lead poisoning, it's fairly obvious how to deal with the problem," said Fierko. "You can see paint and paint chips. You can see and smell car exhaust. But you can't see or taste lead in water -- you have to have your water tested."
 Fortunately, there are some simple steps that people can take to reduce lead in drinking water.
 The easy and cheapest way -- though not necessarily 100 percent effective -- is simply to "flush" your water by allowing the tap to run for a few minutes before drawing water for drinking or cooking. Use the cold water tap -- hot water tends to leach higher concentrations of lead out of household pipes.
 Ultimately, the only sure way to virtually eliminate lead is through some form of effective filtration system. There are essentially three methods that will remove up to 98 percent of the lead from drinking water -- as well as a lot of other undesirable contaminants and odors -- distillation, ion-exchange filtration and reverse osmosis filtration.
 In the first method, water is boiled and the ensuing vapor condensed in a separate chamber, leaving about 95 percent of all contaminants behind. The other two methods use sophisticated filtering devices to ferret out more than 98 percent of the lead.
 Inevitably, public concern over the presence of lead in drinking water has given rise to a cottage industry of fly-by-night outfits hawking phony purification systems. Consumers who opt to go the filtration route need to follow some simple guidelines to make sure that the system they purchase does more than leave a bad taste in their mouths.
 The first and best safeguard is to buy from a company that's been in business for a while -- and can be contacted easily in case of problems. EcoWater, for example, has been in existence for more than 65 years and has a no-questions-asked refund policy for up to 90 days after purchase. As required by some states, the company's products also come with a seal of approval from the National Sanitation Foundation and performance data sheets giving detailed breakdowns of exactly how much of an individual contaminant is removed by filtration.
 Filtration systems are available to meet almost every budget, starting with countertop carafes that use an ion exchange/carbon filter and retail for about $30 to countertop distillers for about $125 to under-the-counter systems that employ both carbon and reverse osmosis filters and range in price from a couple hundred dollars and up. The more elaborate the system, the higher the cost -- but also the more convenience for the user.
 Consumers who invest in effective filtration systems will also discover additional, appealing benefits. Even water from wells or municipal systems that is perfectly safe to drink may not be all that palatable -- water can pick up sediment from corroded pipes, while chlorine itself possesses an odor and aftertaste many find unpleasant. It also is one of the main reasons why that first cup of morning coffee may turn out to be a bitter surprise.
 But the biggest and most pressing reason to install filters may be lead. As with many other hazardous materials in our everyday environment, even a little bit is too much, while continual exposure can have disastrous consequences.
 Just ask Marie Antoinette.
 For a free educational booklet on water quality problems and solutions, call EcoWater's consumer information line, 1-800-86WATER, and ask for the booklet called "The Water In Your Life."
 NOTE: Edward Fierko is available for interviews. Photos of lead-removing appliances are available upon request.
 -0- 3/24/92
 /CONTACT: Floyd Smith of EcoWater, 1-800-86WATER, or Tom Jollie of Padilla Speer Beardsley, 612-297-6500, for EcoWater/ CO: EcoWater Systems ST: Minnesota IN: SU:


SM -- NYEFNS30 -- 0866 03/24/92 07:21 EST
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Date:Mar 24, 1992
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