Can filters be used to remove lead from tap water?

An initial inventory on behalf of Waternet

Waternet commissioned KWR to study the application possibilities of filters to remove lead from tap water. An inventory has never been made of such filters within the drinking water sector, while many consumers have questions about lead water pipes and their impact on their health. The study shows that in acute situations the filters can provide a temporary solution, but that further research on them is needed. The report concludes with the recommendation that consultations be conducted with the responsible government ministries before such filters are recommended to consumers.

Questions about filters

Many consumers have questions about lead water pipes and their impact on their health. This became especially apparent after lead pipes were unexpectedly found in buildings and homes in residential districts in Amsterdam North at the end of last year and, almost simultaneously, the Dutch Health Council called for even more stringent requirements concerning lead in drinking water. In a response to a call for solutions, the suggestion was made to use filters capable of removing lead from household tap water. Since there are still many open questions regarding such filters, Waternet commissioned KWR to research the matter. For example, which filters are available? How do they work and how effective are they? Can any side-effects be expected? And do these available filters or devices have a Kiwa Water Mark or equivalent quality certificate?

Temporary solution for acute situations

To answer these questions KWR examined the international scientific literature, the Dutch legal and regulatory dispositions, and the knowledge and experience present at KWR. The results were collected in the report ‘Application possibilities for filters for the removal of lead from tap water’ (in Dutch), which was completed in March and recently made public. It notes that there are filters available in markets abroad that can effectively remove lead, but it is not known whether these results are applicable to the situation in the Netherlands. It also reports that there are currently no filters bearing a Kiwa Water Mark. More information about the effectiveness and service life of the filters in the Dutch context is therefore desirable. ‘Although the filters can provide a temporary solution in acute situations, further research is needed,’ says KWR researcher Nellie Slaats, the author of the report. ‘It would be better to replace the lead pipes. That would be a definitive solution.’

Monitoring necessary

The KWR report also stresses the importance of knowing that the filters are working properly. Slaats: ‘That’s why lead concentrations in the tap water still need to be monitored on a regular basis.’ It is also advisable to monitor the microbial safety of the drinking water, because microorganisms can grow in the filters with long-term use. Lastly, the researchers conclude that the responsible government ministries should give consideration to the possible use of such filters.