Effectiveness of Prevailing Flush Guidelines to Prevent Exposure to Lead in Tap Water
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Flushing tap water is promoted as a low cost approach to reducing water lead exposures. This study evaluated lead reduction when prevailing flush guidelines (30 s–2 min) are implemented in a city compliant with lead-associated water regulations (New Orleans, LA, USA). Water samples (n = 1497) collected from a convenience sample of 376 residential sites (2015–2017) were analyzed for lead. Samples were collected at (1) first draw (n = 375) and after incremental flushes of (2) 30–45 s (n = 375); (3) 2.5–3 min (n = 373), and (4) 5.5–6 min (n = 218). There was a small but significant increase in water lead after the 30 s flush (vs. first draw lead). There was no significant lead reduction until the 6 min flush (p < 0.05); but of these samples, 52% still had detectable lead (≥1 ppb). Older homes (pre-1950) and low occupancy sites had significantly higher water lead (p < 0.05). Each sample type had health-based standard exceedances in over 50% of sites sampled (max: 58 ppb). While flushing may be an effective short-term approach to remediate high lead, prevailing flush recommendations are an inconsistently effective exposure prevention measure that may inadvertently increase exposures. Public health messages should be modified to ensure appropriate application of flushing, while acknowledging its short-comings and practical limitations.