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Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. If you had access to my inbox, you would see the outpouring of calls for help from all over the world. Today, we’re talking about one of the issues I continue to receive complaints about: lead. It remains a huge contaminant of concern.
Lead pipes transport drinking water into millions of U.S. homes, even though they were banned more than 30 years ago. When Congress prohibited the use of lead pipes in 1986, they allowed those already in the ground to stay put. In 2016, the American Water Works Association estimated that up to 22 million Americans still drink water from a system with lead-based service lines. And that’s a big problem.
Lead can increase in drinking water when there’s maintenance to the plumbing system or when corrosive water runs through the pipes, as we’ve seen happen in Flint, Michigan and many other communities including Newark, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Remember, there are no safe levels of lead exposure, especially when it comes to children. Lead is a known neurotoxin that can cause irreversible damage and is most toxic to the developing brain.
Here’s a letter I received recently from Corpus Christi, Texas:
Hello, We just learned through the media that there has been widespread lead poisoning, especially in children, from our residential water source in Corpus Christi, Texas, (city of ~300,000).
Given all of the other water issues that we have had with limited transparency from the city, I worry that this is the tip of the iceberg. Have you dealt with this elsewhere, or have any advice, especially for parents? Thank you for all that you do.
First, the news. An analysis by the Texas Department of State Health Services found that about 300 Nueces County children under the age of 6, and potentially many more, had high levels of lead in their blood between 2012 and 2017. Additionally, the Child Development Center at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi was found to have a higher level of lead in its water than federal regulations allow as recently as 2019.
Secondly, so many communities find out about contamination issues from their local media. Continue to support journalism in your towns, as many times, local reporters are watchdogs for these cases.
Corpus Christi is not alone in their findings. Also in July, the U.S. EPA issued an emergency administrative order to the water board in the city of Clarksburg, West Virginia, asking them to identify homes and businesses with lead service lines.
The lead issue was first discovered by staff in the Bureau for Public Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program during environmental lead assessments conducted in the homes of children diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels, according to an EPA press release. Water samples in several homes serviced by the Clarksburg Water System further confirmed lead levels above the EPA’s action level (15 parts per billion). The agency asked the city to provide residents who are impacted by this possible lead exposure with drinking water or filters that are certified to removed lead.
What To Do
If you are a parent in one of the thousands of communities dealing with elevated lead levels in your drinking water, here are some steps and resources you can take to help protect yourselves and your children.
1. Get educated on lead issues in this country.
Watch this interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research exposed the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. Learn how lead poisoning in children remains a problem and how childhood lead exposure can be prevented.
2. Get involved.
The lead and copper rule in this country is not adequate, not even close. Even recent revisions fall short of truly protecting our children. The EPA has set an action level of 15 parts per billion, or ppb, for lead in drinking water but that level is intended to track a water system’s efforts to manage water corrosivity and is not based on a safe exposure level for children.
An internal EPA analysis showed that to prevent a child under age 7 from experiencing lead poisoning, their drinking water would have to be limited to 4.7 ppb each day, on average.
The only long term solution for our lead woes is to remove lead pipes, faucets, and plumbing fixtures for good. The new bipartisan infrastructure bill currently under debate on the Senate floor provides $55 billion for water infrastructure, including the money to replace all of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines.
Call your senators and tell them why your community needs these funds!
3. Talk to your pediatrician.
More and more doctors are becoming aware of the issue of lead poisoning in children and can determine if your child needs blood tests. They can also offer additional health interventions, if your child has been exposed.
4. Take precautions where you can.
If you know lead is present in your drinking water, switch to bottled water or find a filter that has been approved for lead removal. Avoid using hot tap water for drinking or cooking, as hot water can leach lead from the pipes.
The Lead Coalition
Important Steps You Can Take to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention
Blood Lead Levels in Children
5 Things To Do To Help Lower Your Child’s Lead Level
The Flint Registry
The Flint Registry is a project that connects people to services and programs to promote health and wellness and helps understand how the Flint water crisis has affected the Flint community.
Corpus Christi homeowners and business owners can request a free kit to test their tap water here: https://www.leadtest.cctxwater.com
Texas Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
Have more questions? Pop them in the comments section below, and we will do our best to answer them.