Drinking Water With Low Lead Levels Still Pose Serious Health Risks For Certain Individuals: Study

Kidney function is reduced by even legally acceptable levels of lead in drinking water, researchers warn.

There may be no safe level of lead in drinking water, especially for people with kidney failure, according to the findings of a new study.

Lead poisoning is known cause serious side effects, including cardiovascular problems, decreased kidney function, neurological changes, and reproductive problems. At very high levels, it can be fatal. However, researchers Harvard and Fresenius Medical now warn that even commonly encountering levels of drinking water lead contamination pose serious health risks for susceptible individuals.

According to finding published last week in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, individuals with advanced kidney disease are at risk of lead poisoning even when exposed to levels that are below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) safe limit threshold.

Concerns Over Lead in Drinking Water

The U.S. has set limits for lead in drinking water, and has taken steps to reduce the effects on Americans. However, the EPA indicates more than 9.2 million homes across the country still receive water contaminated with toxic lead leaching from pipes.

Water contaminated by lead is widespread in grade schools and high schools across the country, prompting the Biden Administration to create a plan to replace drinking water pipes in schools over the next 10 years.

Additionally, a 2016 study in Pediatrics found that any level of lead exposure is unsafe for children, even the levels deemed safe by the EPA. Exposure to lead at low levels can decrease a child’s intellectual and academic abilities and may even cause neurodevelopment disorders.

Learn More About

Lead Poisoning Lawsuits

Children diagnosed with lead poisoning after exposure to peeling or chipping lead paint in a rental home may be entitled to financial compensation and benefits.


Patients suffering from kidney failure face an increased risk of negative effects from chemical exposure and environmental toxins. But research is lacking on the effects of lead in drinking water at the “safe” levels set by the EPA.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted an analysis of household water lead concentrations and kidney function. The study included 6,400 people with kidney failure at a Fresenius Medical Care outpatient facility from 2017 to 2021.

Lead concentrations in household water were compared to the EPA’s allowable threshold of 15 μg/L to ensure the water consumed was below the safe limit. A total of 12% of patients had measurable lead in their household drinking water, but the levels were below the EPA allowable threshold.

Higher levels of lead in household drinking water were linked to a lower hemoglobin concentration of 0.12 g/dL among patients with pre-kidney failure, especially those who were also iron deficient. Patients who were exposed to higher household lead contamination, but still below the EPA threshold, experienced a 15% increased risk of needing a higher erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA).

ESA is often given to kidney failure patients who are suffering from anemia due to the disease or are undergoing dialysis, a process that filters the blood because the kidneys no longer can.

On average, patients exposed to higher levels of lead in their drinking water needed a 4.5 mg higher monthly ESA dose and experienced a 0.48% higher resistance each month to their ESA medication. Lower hemoglobin concentrations were seen among more than 2,600 patients with advanced kidney disease.

“The findings of this study suggest that commonly encountered levels of drinking water lead contamination may have adverse health consequences among susceptible individuals,” researchers concluded.


  • MichaelJune 8, 2024 at 1:11 pm

    No amount of lead is safe! EPA should set the action level to zero! We have been successful in removing lead from several schools in Chicago, without replacing pipes, fountains or relying on filters! We can do it nationwide!

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