Repeated home drinking water sampling to improve detection of particulate lead spikes: a simulation study.

Samuel Dorevitch, Sarah D. Geiger, Walton Kelly, David E. Jacobs, Hakan Demirtas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Lead can be present in drinking water in soluble and particulate forms. The intermittent release of lead particulates in drinking water can produce highly variable water lead levels (WLLs) in individual homes, a health concern because both particulate and soluble lead are bioavailable. More frequent water sampling would increase the likelihood of identifying sporadic lead “spikes,” though little information is available to aid in estimating how many samples are needed to achieve a given degree of sensitivity to spike detection. Objective: To estimate the number of rounds of tap water sampling needed to determine with a given level of confidence that an individual household is at low risk for the intermittent release of lead particulates. Methods: We simulated WLLs for 100,000 homes on 15 rounds of sampling under a variety of assumptions about lead spike release. A Markovian structure was used to describe WLLs for individual homes on subsequent rounds of sampling given a set of transitional probabilities, in which homes with higher WLLs at baseline were more likely to exhibit a spike on repeated sampling. Results: Assuming 2% of homes had a spike on the first round of sampling and a mid-range estimate of transitional probabilities, the initial round of sampling had a 6.4% sensitivity to detect a spike. Seven rounds of sampling would be needed to increase the sensitivity to 50%, which would leave unrecognized the more than 15,000 homes that intermittently exhibit spikes. Significance: For assessing household risk for lead exposure through drinking water, multiple rounds of water sampling are needed to detect the infrequent but high spikes in WLLs due to particulate release. Water sampling procedures for assessment of lead exposure in individual homes should be modified to account for the infrequent but high spikes in WLL. Impact: It has been known for decades that intermittent “spikes” in water lead occur due to the sporadic release of lead particulates. However, conventional water sampling strategies do not account for these infrequent but hazardous events. This research suggests that current approaches to sampling tap water for lead testing identify only a small fraction of homes in which particulate spikes occur, and that sampling procedures should be changed substantially to increase the probability of identifying the hazard of particulate lead release into drinking water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-154
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
Issue number1
Early online dateApr 3 2023
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Drinkingwater
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Lead
  • Lead and Copper Rule
  • Lead poisoning prevention
  • ISWS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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