Lead-Contaminated Water Becoming Increasingly Prevalent

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May 04, 2016 | 185,748 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Three Michigan state and local officials are facing criminal charges over their involvement in the Flint lead water crisis. More charges may be brought as the investigation continues
  • Between 2000 and 2004, Washington DC was also plagued with lead-contaminated water. As in Flint, some of the lead levels in the water were high enough to be classified as hazardous waste
  • At least 350 schools and day care centers across the U.S. test above the EPA’s action level for lead content in water

By Dr. Mercola

In April 2014, the state of Michigan took over management of the city of Flint, and as a cost-saving measure decided to switch the city’s water from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water to water from the notoriously polluted Flint River.1

What followed was a human rights travesty. People started suffering health problems, including rashes, hair loss and vision problems, yet state managers insisted the water was safe. This stance was maintained even in the face of third-party independent water testing.

In August 2015, Virginia Tech scientists led by Marc Edwards, Ph.D.2 discovered Flint’s tap water was contaminated with, in some cases, astronomically high levels of lead.  

They also found a number of other toxins, including high levels of trihalomethanes3 — carcinogenic byproducts from water treatment — and dangerous bacteria such as E.coli and Legionella, the latter of which is suspected of causing an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. As noted by The New Yorker:4

“Incompetence, bureaucratic buck-passing, and environmental racism — Flint is majority African-American — and a catastrophic departure from democratic accountability in the one-eyed pursuit of reducing public budgets are the unsubtle culprits in this still-unfolding saga of mass poisoning.

These are all common-enough themes in an era of tottering infrastructure, vanished manufacturing, and gutted public-safety regulation.”

United States Has Long Been Lax on Lead

Lead is a well-recognized neurotoxin. Even the Romans in the second century B.C. understood its dangers. European countries began banning the use of lead in consumer goods in the early 1900s, yet the United States still to this day doesn’t take as firm a stance against it as we should.

In fact, as noted by The New Yorker, while the League of Nations banned lead-based paint in 1922, the U.S. allowed its use for decades thereafter. Lead-based paint wasn’t banned in the U.S. until 1978.

Even more egregious, the U.S. actually introduced leaded gasoline in 1923, and the ramifications of this greed-riddled move have had near-unfathomable repercussions for the global community.

The auto and chemical industries used the same techniques back then as they do now; promoting, defending, manipulating government officials, and molding public opinion in order to profit from a toxic product, all while knowing exactly the kind of harm it causes.

Non-toxic alternatives were readily available, but using lead allowed the oil industry to rake in higher profits. Human health was also traded for dollars in Flint. At most, the measure could save the city $5 million. But what was the ultimate cost to human health?

Estimates suggest anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 children in Flint may have been poisoned by lead, and the effects may reverberate throughout the rest of their lives.

Flint Was Not the First Lead Scandal

Flint is by no means an isolated incident. As noted in the featured article,5 Edwards also blew the whistle on lead-contaminated water in Washington, D.C. back in 2003.

As in Flint, some of the lead levels in the water were high enough to be classified as hazardous waste, and as many as 42,000 children under the age of 2 may have been poisoned by lead-contaminated water in Washington DC between 2000 and 2004.

As in Flint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was well aware of the contamination but kept it quiet. A water-quality manager who reported the problem to the agency was fired, and when Edwards began to bring the issue to the public’s attention, the EPA ended his contract with the agency.

Health Agencies Have Betrayed Public Trust

The Washington D.C. and Flint poisoning events reveal a baffling modus operandi of public health agencies. Instead of taking swift action to protect public health against the threat of lead poisoning, the problem is swept under the rug.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was also in on the charade, producing a 2004 report that concluded the water-lead levels in Washington D.C. were of no major concern. This paper was subsequently used by cities across the U.S. to cut back on costly lead-abatement programs.

According to Edwards, what these agencies did in Washington D.C. was “the most fundamental betrayal of public trust” he’d ever seen, adding that “in general, academic research and scientists in this country are no longer deserving of the public trust.”6

Michigan Officials Now Being Criminally Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

If there’s a silver lining to the Flint debacle, it’s that it has brought widespread attention to the issue of lead contamination across the country. Considering the faltering infrastructure, hundreds of U.S. cities with aging water lines are suspected of having an unacknowledged lead problem. John Oliver recently dedicated an entire episode14 to the lead issue in Flint and elsewhere, noting that a recent investigation found excessive lead levels in nearly 2,000 water systems across all 50 states.

Moreover there are more than 7.3 million lead service lines across the country — any of which may be leaching lead into the drinking water. In addition to that, an estimated 24 million American homes still have lead-based paint on the walls.15 The cost to remediate all these buildings is high — $16.6 billion dollars a year for 10 years. Lead abatement programs receive a mere fraction of that.

Last year, only 110 million was allocated to lead removal. However, while the expense may seem astronomical, research suggests that each dollar spent on lead paint abatement could result in anywhere from $17 to $221 in societal benefits such as lowered medical bills and reduced crime, which would make it money well spent over the long haul.

How to Avoid Lead Poisoning

The issue of lead in your home and water may be most pressing if you have young children, but adults can certainly be adversely affected as well since elevated lead is associated with neurological dysfunction. So what can you do to protect your family against lead exposure? Harvard Medical School offers the following suggestions:16

Water Filtration Is No Longer a Luxury

Even if you don’t have a problem with lead in your water, I strongly recommend filtering your tap water since most water sources are so severely polluted. In general, most water supplies contain a number of potentially hazardous contaminants, from fluoride, to drugs and disinfection byproducts (DBPs), just to name a few.

Moreover, while there are legal limits on many of the contaminants permitted in municipal water supplies, more than half of the 300+ chemicals detected in U.S. drinking water are not regulated at all.19 Some of the legal limits may also be too lenient for safety.

If you have well water, it would be prudent to have your water tested not only for lead but also arsenic and other contaminants. If you have public water, you can get local drinking water quality reports from the EPA.20 You can also check out the Environmental Working Group’s drinking water quality database,21 which covers 48,000 communities in the U.S. 

Among the top rated water utilities are in Arlington, Texas, Providence, Rhode Island, and Forth Worth, Texas. At the bottom of the list are Pensacola, Florida, Riverside, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Unless you can verify the purity of your water, I strongly recommend using a high quality water filtration system. To be certain you’re getting the purest water you can, filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink and shower.

One of the best I’ve found so far is the Pure & Clear Whole House Water Filtration System, which uses a three-stage filtration process — a micron sediment pre-filter, a KDF water filter, and a high-grade carbon water filter22 — to filter out chlorine, DBPs, and other contaminants. Here’s a picture of what the setup looks like.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 Organic Consumers Association April 18, 2016
  • 2, 6 Chronicle of Higher Education February 2, 2016
  • 3 Water Quality and Health March 13, 2015
  • 4, 5 New Yorker February 4, 2016
  • 7 Scientific American April 20, 2016
  • 8 Reuters April 19, 2016
  • 9, 12 New York Times February 13, 2016
  • 10 Gizmodo March 18, 2016
  • 11 PBS Newshour April 19, 2016
  • 13 The Intercept December 16, 2015
  • 14 Newsweek April 18, 2016
  • 15 CDC.gov, Lead
  • 16 Harvard Health Publications February 2, 2016
  • 17 EPA.gov, Lead-Based Paint Activities Professionals
  • 18 Consumer Products Safety Commission, Lead Content
  • 19, 21 EWG.org National Drinking Water Database
  • 20 EPA.gov Drinking Water Quality Reports
  • 22 How Stuff Works, Charcoal Water Filters