Health

Lead Continues to Leach into the Water

Thousands of U.S. communities have levels higher than those found in Flint, Michigan

If you think the water you’re drinking is safe — and you’re not concerned about lead because you live far from Flint — think again.

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Lead levels that are at least double those in Flint, Michigan, at the height of its contamination crisis have been found in nearly 3,000 other U.S. communities, according to Reuters. More than 1,100 of these communities have a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher. Most often the problems are caused by crumbling paint, plumbing, and outdated infrastructures — or industrial waste left behind.

Reporters with the news service made the discovery while combing through recent lead testing results from across the country. Reuters also found that most of these communities are receiving little or no attention or funding.

Any child who tests high warrants a public health response, because even a slight elevation can reduce IQ and stunt development.

In Warren, Pennsylvania, 36 percent of children tested had high lead levels. In some pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, test results were 40 to 50 percent above levels considered safe. Across the nation, test results are showing the same problem in community after community.

At least 4 million households have children who are being exposed to high levels of lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some half a million U.S. children ages 1 to 5 have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

Any child who tests high warrants a public health response, the agency states, because even a slight elevation can reduce IQ and stunt development — no safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body, but because it often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.

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“I hope this data spurs questions from the public to community leaders who can make changes,” epidemiologist Robert Walker, co-chair of the CDC’s Lead Content Work Group, told Reuters. “I would think it would turn some heads.”

The findings will help inform the public about risks in their own neighborhoods and allow health officials to seek lead abatement grants in the most dangerous spots, said Walker. Unfortunately, there’s little room right now in the federal budget to help. Congress recently directed $170 million in aid to Flint — 10 times the CDC’s budget for assisting states with lead poisoning this year.

Related: How to Get the Lead Out

It’s important to know what’s in your water. If you’ve never checked it, or if you  have questions, call your municipal water supplier and ask for a copy of its Consumer Confidence Report. This should list any contaminants found during tests and their levels; federal law requires this on a regular basis.

You might also access reports online at the EPA’s website by simply typing in your zip code.

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