Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 185, Issue 2, pp 1355–1365 | Cite as

Lead (Pb) quantification in potable water samples: implications for regulatory compliance and assessment of human exposure

  • Simoni Triantafyllidou
  • Caroline K. Nguyen
  • Yan Zhang
  • Marc A. EdwardsEmail author


Assessing the health risk from lead (Pb) in potable water requires accurate quantification of the Pb concentration. Under worst-case scenarios of highly contaminated water samples, representative of public health concerns, up to 71–98 % of the total Pb was not quantified if water samples were not mixed thoroughly after standard preservation (i.e., addition of 0.15 % (v/v) HNO3). Thorough mixing after standard preservation improved recovery in all samples, but 35–81 % of the total Pb was still un-quantified in some samples. Transfer of samples from one bottle to another also created high errors (40–100 % of the total Pb was un-quantified in transferred samples). Although the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s standard protocol avoids most of these errors, certain methods considered EPA-equivalent allow these errors for regulatory compliance sampling. Moreover, routine monitoring for assessment of human Pb exposure in the USA has no standardized protocols for water sample handling and pre-treatment. Overall, while there is no reason to believe that sample handling and pre-treatment dramatically skew regulatory compliance with the US Pb action level, slight variations from one approved protocol to another may cause Pb-in-water health risks to be significantly underestimated, especially for unusual situations of “worst case” individual exposure to highly contaminated water.


Lead Water Sample pre-treatment Standard acid preservation Mixing Transfer 



The authors acknowledge the financial support of the National Science Foundation under grant CBET-0933246. Opinions and findings expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors are grateful to John A. Consolvo of the Philadelphia Water Department (USA) for answering questions relevant to Pb-in-water quantification methods and for providing comments to improve the quality of this manuscript. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simoni Triantafyllidou
    • 1
  • Caroline K. Nguyen
    • 1
  • Yan Zhang
    • 2
  • Marc A. Edwards
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Civil and Environmental Engineering DepartmentVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Long Beach Water DepartmentLong BeachUSA

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