REPORT: Millions in America drink water with toxic lead levels

Water file photo - NBC News

AUSTIN (NBC News) – According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, millions of Americans may be drinking water with toxic levels of lead.

The report finds more than 5,300 water systems across the US in violation of federal rules limiting levels of lead and copper in tap water.

“The vast majority of the violations were related to lead issues. A lot of them were for failure to test the water. Some of them were for failure to treat the water to ensure that there wasn’t lead,” Erik Olson of the NRDC said.

The main concern is lead’s lasting effect on the developing brains of children, potentially leading to learning and behavior problems.

Flint, Michigan was one extreme example of lead contamination. It occurred when the town’s water supply source was switched and corrosive chemicals leached lead into the water supply.

Philadelphia has also been criticized for testing water in too few homes with lead service lines.

“You can’t see it. You can’t smell it, so it’s not something you can detect. The only way to really know if you’ve got lead is to have your water actually tested by a laboratory to find out if it’s got a problem.” Olsen says.

If you have concerns about your home’s water, experts advise flushing the system by running the tap for a few minutes before using it for drinking or cooking.

The NRDC website has an interactive map where you can find results for your county. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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