Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 19, pp 19991–19996 | Cite as

Heavy metal concentrations in drinking water in a country heavily reliant on desalination

  • Zohar Barnett-ItzhakiEmail author
  • Jarrod Eaton
  • Irit Hen
  • Tamar Berman
Short Research and Discussion Article


Desalination is an important strategy for adapting to the global shortage in safe drinking water. Israel relies heavily on desalinated water (over 50% of supplied drinking water). However, desalinated water may be more corrosive than water from other sources and may cause leaching of heavy metals from materials in contact with water. In this study, we measured heavy metal concentrations (copper, iron, lead) in 1379 drinking water samples in educational institutions in Israel and compared heavy metal concentrations in drinking water from different sources (desalination, groundwater, desalinated and groundwater mixture). 99.9% of the samples met the standard for copper (1400 μg/l), 99.7% for iron (1000 μg/l), and 99.6% for lead (10 μg/l). As expected, heavy metal concentrations were higher in first flush samples compared to flushed samples (significant findings for lead, copper, and iron). Heavy metal concentrations were not higher in desalinated water, or desalinated and groundwater mixture, compared to groundwater. In first flush samples, lead concentrations in groundwater were significantly higher than in desalinated-groundwater mixtures (p = 0.005). In flushed samples, lead concentrations in groundwater were higher than in desalinated-groundwater mixtures but the difference was not significant (p = 0.07). We suggest that regulatory requirements for stabilization of desalinated water and restrictions on lead content of plumbing materials appear to have been effective in preventing increased exposure to lead in desalinated drinking water in Israel. Further study should focus on potential heavy metal leaching in pure desalinated water samples.


Water-management Drinking water Heavy metals Lead Iron Copper Desalination 



The work of the first author was supported by the Environment and Health Fund, Jerusalem, Israel. The authors wish to thank Ronnie Levin for helpful feedback on the manuscript. The authors wish to thank Luda Groisman from the National Public Health Laboratory, Ministry Of Health, Tel Aviv, for her dedication and efficient analyses, and to personnel in Ministry of Health District Offices for hard work on sample collection.


This study was funded by the Israel Ministry of Health.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11356_2019_5358_MOESM1_ESM.docx (27 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 26.9 kb)


  1. Alam IA, Sadiq M (1989) Metal contamination of drinking water from corrosion of distribution pipes. Environ Pollut 57:167–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Burlingame GM, Bailey C, Nelson J et al (2018) Lessons learned from helping schools manage lead in drinking water to protect children’s health. J Am Water Works Assoc 110:44–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Doré E, Deshommes E, Andrews RC, Nour S, Prévost M (2018) Sampling in schools and large institutional buildings: implications for regulations, exposure and management of lead and copper. Water Res 140:110–122. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Israeli water authority, Desalination (2018) (Hebrew). Accessed October 2018
  5. Koren G, Shlezinger M, Katz R, Shalev V, Amitai Y (2017) Seawater desalination and serum magnesium concentrations in Israel. J Water Health 15:296–299. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Liu H, Schonberger KD, Korshin GV, Ferguson JF, Meyerhofer P, Desormeaux E, Luckenbach H (2010) Effects of blending of desalinated water with treated surface drinking water on copper and lead release. Water Res 44(14):4057–4066. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ministry of Health (2016) Guidelines for water sampling (Hebrew) Accessed March 2019
  8. New-York State (2018) Department of Health, Annual Water Quality Report Accessed October 2018
  9. Oldfield JW (1998) Electrochemical theory of galvanic corrosion. In “Galvanic Corrosion”, ASTM STP 979 H.P.Hack Ed. ASTM international, West Conshohocken (PA)
  10. Shams El-Din AM (2009) Three strategies for combating the corrosion of steel pipes carrying desalinated potable water. Desalination 238:166–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Taylor J, Dietz J, Randall A, Hong S (2005) (2005) Impact of RO-desalted water on distribution water qualities. Water Sci Technol 51(6-7):285–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. U.S. EPA. 1994a. “Method 200.7: determination of metals and trace elements in water and wastes by inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry,” Revision 4.4. Cincinnati, OHGoogle Scholar
  13. U.S. EPA. 1994b “Method 200.8: determination of trace elements in waters and wastes by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry,” Revision 5.4. Cincinnati, OHGoogle Scholar
  14. WHO (2004) Health Risks From Drinking Demineralised Water Accessed October 2018
  15. WHO (2011) Safe Drinking-water from Desalination Accessed October 2018
  16. WHO (2018) Drinking water. Accessed October 2018

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ministry of HealthJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Bioinformatics Department, School of Life and Health ScienceJerusalem College of TechnologyJerusalemIsrael
  3. 3.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations