Over 4 Million US Families Are Affected By Lead Poisoning

by Andy Hart
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  • Over 3,000 US Cities Have Tap Water That's More Toxic Than Flint's
  • Gradually Replacing Pipes Is Causing More Lead Problems
  • 5,300 Water System Contaminations affect Over 4 Million Families

Lead Toxicity affects Millions Of US Families

In a recent report, published near the end of December 2016, data collected by an investigate team shows that more than 5,300 water systems have been affected by lead toxicity which are connected to over thousands of consumer water facilities. The report found that over 3,000 US cities provided their residents with water that's more poisonous than Flint's. According to the CDC, 4 million families are affected across the country by lead toxicity with more than 500,00 children (1 in every 38 children) being poisoned with lead blood levels high enough to require urgent medical treatment.

For decades the United States had seen a drastic drop in lead toxicity but as older structures bean to deteriorate, as oversight agencies began to lose funding and as pipes began to corrode the people became more and more exposed to the truly toxic conditions they were living in.

"Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead." - CDC

Dirty Contaminated Bath Water From St. Joseph Louisiana (Photo ©Garrett Boyte)
Dirty Contaminated Bath Water From St. Joseph Louisiana (Photo ©Garrett Boyte)

"3,000 US Cities Have Lead Poisoning Rates Higher Than Flint’s" - Telesur

In a report published by M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer on December 19th, they "found 2,606 census tracts, and another 278 zip code areas, with a prevalence of lead poisoning at least twice Flint’s rate." Their report outlines details covering approximately 61% of the country's total population but the authors note that "Health departments in some states didn’t possess the data or respond to records requests. Others wouldn’t share it, saying they weren’t required to, or citing patient privacy laws."

Lead Pipes Are More Poisonous When Repairs Are Slow & Scattered

The current circumstance in Flint, the corruption and the guidelines of the Lead and Copper Rule make replacement of pipes a gradual process which is actually doing more harm to residents. When the lead pipes on a property become replaced, but they're still connected to the lead pipes outside of that property meaning repairs can disrupt more lead and corrosion will still travel through. Instead of their current process (which is to have individual homeowners replace their own property's pipes gradually over time), the safest and most affective way to repair the toxic lead piping is to replace the entire piping structure that contains lead.

"The only way to permanently and completely fix the problem of lead in drinking water is to conduct the full replacement of the lead-containing pipes and solder in a water system," said Sarah Tallman, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Lead Data Is Disappearing While Lead Levels Are Rising

One thing I came across while writing this article was the CDC's admission that it does not have the adequate staff to do reports and the reports themselves are not required from the states. Even the third party report done by Reuters could only trace information for 60% of the country and many precincts showed a refusal to hand over documents which one can easily assume means because no data is being kept track. When we have no mandatory record keeping of lead and copper and when states aren't required to know how much lead their citizens are consume.. then we've got ourselves a major problem.

"CDC funds 35 state and local health departments for lead surveillance. As part of their funding agreement, awardees (grantees) are required to report data to us on a quarterly basis. Data reporting is voluntary in states we don’t fund. We do not have a contract or other mechanism to require reporting, and in many of the states we don’t fund, there are no staff to do this work."

One noticeable difference in the latest report provided by the CDC is the sharp decline in the number of children tested for lead levels while the amount of children with lead in their blood actually rises after 2011. There hasn't been a spike in lead for decades until 2011-2012 and this increase may be realistically higher or lower (due to data insufficiency and fewer samples being taken).

U.S. Totals Blood Lead Surveillance, 1997-2015 (via CDC)
U.S. Totals Blood Lead Surveillance, 1997-2015 (via CDC)

The data for tracking lead levels across the United States is dwindling as individual states are not required to report or submit information they have on lead contamination incidents. Some departments don't have the staff or funding to commit to reporting which means if there's no data reported then there are no lead contamination prevention measures taking place in thousands of cities across the country.


The Lead And Copper Rule

Since 1991 the EPA has been seeking ways for water facilities to monitor and replace water systems contaminated by lead but has been met with setbacks including budget cuts, lawsuits due to improper details in the rules and having little oversight. The LCR itself sets a standard for water treatment facilities to act upon the first sign of lead concentrations when found in over 10% of their consumer's tap water faucets. The ruling cites "If lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10% of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion."

On November 18th, 2015 Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) recommended changes to the Lead and Copper Rule after the fallout from Flint's failed water system that went ignored, neglected and lied about by the governments of Michigan.

"What happened in Flint is a failure of government." - Congressman Dan Kildee

The congressman went on to say "This new Lead and Copper Rule must have greater transparency in order to restore public confidence and protect public health and ensure the safety of drinking water. Residents deserve to know why for months the state of Michigan failed to follow federal safe drinking water laws. At my request, the EPA is conducting a complete audit of Michigan’s implementation of the Lead and Copper Rule, so I hope some of the lessons learned during that audit can be included in the latest revisions of this Lead and Copper Rule." The NDWAC agreed and approved the recommendations for the long-term LCR revisions.

The Dangers Of Lead

Known as plumbum in Latin; the root of 'plumbing', lead has been around for centuries and provided a non-rusting metal alloy that civilizations have been using to transport water, unknowingly poisoning it's citizens. What have civilizations learned from the fall of the Roman Empire (speculated to have fallen due to the lead toxicity effecting the population's mental state). Better yet, let's be more realistic.. what have we, as a country, learned from the events that occurred in Flint, Michigan?

We buy unleaded gasoline, as of 1980, and we make sure our paint is lead free... though, many older homes still have hazardous chipping lead paint (which is one of the main ways children can get lead toxicity) and yet half a million children have lead poisoning in the United States (one of the wealthiest countries on the globe) and yet we don't have the resources to track our entire country's lead data, fix our piping or get proper regulations put into place to actually prevent these tragedies from happening repeatedly.

Monique Frazier with a health inspector in Chicago (Photo © Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Monique Frazier with a health inspector in Chicago (Photo © Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Once consumed or inhaled by a child, lead can have serious effects including: damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning behavior problems, learning deficiencies, reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, criminal and violent behavior and even hearing and speech problems (according to the CDC). It is essential to treat a child for lead toxicity before they have to grow up with it in their system which is why testing children, making sure they have clean drinking water and ensuring their medical treatment if they acquire lead in their system.

You can help kids & families of Flint by donating to the United Way of Genesee which provides water and lead filters for families as well as the Community Foundation of Greater Flint which supports children in their treatment of lead poisoning.

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Post Author: Andy Hart

─ He's an activist, lone wolf and freelance graphic designer from California who writes and shares progressive, positive, truthful and inspiring information. Follow Me On Facebook
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