In response to increasing inquiries about lead poisoning - attention largely spurred by the health crisis in Flint, Mich. - Pennsylvania state health officials Thursday released information and guidelines to help reduce the risk of exposure.

The primary source of lead poisoning is not from water, but rather from aging, deteriorating lead-based paint, the state Health Department said.

Although lead paint was banned in 1978, many older homes still contain the toxic substance. And Pennsylvania has more old homes than most states.

Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for the number of housing units built before 1950 (when lead was more prevalent), and fourth in the nation for housing units built before 1978, according to a 2014 Department of Health report that cited 2010 Census data.

While drinking water is a secondary source of concern to conditions in older housing, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said Thursday that keeping lead out of Pennsylvanians' drinking water remains a top priority.

Here are some tips for reducing the chances of lead poisoning:

  • Run your water to flush out lead. If water hasn't been used for several hours, run water for 15-30 seconds or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes out any stagnant water in your home plumbing and replaces it with fresh water from the water main in your street.
  • Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Lead concentrations will be higher in water that is boiled, since some of the water is removed as steam.
  • Test your water for lead. Contact your water system for more information. Some water systems may offer to test your water free of charge. Your water system can also provide information about local laboratories that conduct lead testing. If you have a private well, you should contact a DEP-accredited lab for information about water testing.
  • Identify whether your your house's plumbing fixtures contain lead. Swabs that can detect lead on plumbing surfaces such as solder and pipes can be purchased at plumbing and home improvement stores.
  • The state Department of Health provides a toll-free Lead Information Line, 1-800-440-LEAD, for questions about lead poisoning and other environmental hazards.  Electronic resources are provided on the department's website.
  • The DEP also has a dedicated site for information on lead in drinking water.