Device & Method for Detecting Lead in Water

Tech ID: 20-005

Inventors: Dr. Marya Lieberman, Dr. Graham Peaslee, Meghanne Tighe

Date Added: June 17, 2020


An activated carbon filter paired with XRF analysis for quantification of lead levels in tap water.  

Technology Summary

Lead exposure can lead to severe toxic effects on the human body, particularly on the kidneys and the nervous system. While many of the major sources of lead have been banned, it is estimated that approximately 62% of U.S. residences may still have lead plumbing that could be exposing individuals to the toxic metal via tap water. Currently, inductively coupled plasma (ICP) analysis is used to measure lead levels in water. However, this method is expensive, time-consuming, and not easily scalable to the tens of thousands of residences in a region that may need to be screened. Therefore, a more efficient and cost-effective process of analyzing aqueous lead levels is necessary to realistically identify the harmful presence of lead in drinking water across the entire U.S. population.

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Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have recently developed a device to capture lead from tap water and a method for quantifying aqueous lead levels. In this process, homeowners fill a 2-L bottle with the drinking water of concern, place an activated carbon felt over the end of the bottle, and empty the bottle. The activated carbon filter captures and concentrates lead from the sample by approximately 10,000-fold to be analyzed via X-Ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF). XRF can be done with a portable device and many public health departments already possess XRF equipment. The Device and Method for Detecting Lead in Water developed by the University of Notre Dame is a better alternative than the ICP analysis that is currently done because it can quickly quantify lead levels in drinking water at much lower cost and is more scalable due to a new streamlined process. 

Market Advantages

•    Less expensive than ICP testing (<$50,000 for XRF equipment compared to >$150,000 for ICP equipment). 
•    Homeowners can quickly (approx. 5 min) conduct the filtration process themselves with a kit. 
•    XRF analysis can be done on-site with portable XRF equipment. 
•    Avoids the transportation of large numbers of acidified water samples necessary when using ICP.

Market Opportunity

•    Approximately 80 million U.S. households that should be screened for lead in their drinking water. 
•    Effective for quantifying presence of other elements (calcium, copper, zinc, iron and manganese) in water. 

Technology Readiness Status

TRL4 - Lab Validation


A Sensitive XRF Screening Method for Lead in Drinking Water. 
doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.9b05058


Richard Cox