Lead in the drinking water is still a problem in the U.S. — especially in Chicago

Many cities have older lead service lines connecting homes to the water system. | PLUS: 'Time bomb' lead pipes will be removed. But first water utilities have to find them

SHOTS HEALTH NEWS – In Chicago, about 400,000 homes still get their tap water through lead service lines — pipes that connect individual homes to the main water line.

And nearly 70% of young children are getting exposed to lead from their home tap water, according to recent estimates published in JAMA Pediatrics. The study also finds that Black and Hispanic neighborhoods are more likely to have lead exposure, but less likely to be tested for lead.

“The concerning thing here is that [lead exposure] is happening at such a population level, and we don’t know which houses have small levels of exposure and which ones have large levels,” says study co-author Benjamin Huỳnh, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, though he notes that even low levels of lead can cause health problems.

Lead in the drinking water is still a problem in many parts of the U.S. This toxic metal has been banned from water pipes since 1986, but many homes were built before that. Lead exposure is especially high in Chicago, which has the most lead pipes out of any U.S. city, largely because the city code required the use of lead service lines until the year they were banned.

Health dangers of lead

Lead is especially dangerous for young children. It can damage brains and nervous systems, cause learning and behavioral problems, and issues with hearing and speech development. In adults, lead exposure is associated with kidney damage, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

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And while experts say no level of lead is safe for children, cities like Chicago are still in compliance with federal laws. “The City of Chicago is working hard to ensure that Chicago’s water continues to meet and exceed all standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” the Chicago Department of Public Health wrote … READ MORE.

‘Time bomb’ lead pipes will be removed. But first water utilities have to find them

JULY 20, 2022 By Allison Kite

SHOTS HEALTH NEWS – It took three years for officials to notice lead was seeping into the city’s drinking water.

Missouri regulators had given the green light in 2014 for Trenton to start adding monochloramine to its drinking water to disinfect it without the harmful byproducts of chlorine.

But by 2017, the city noticed something alarming.

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Lead levels in drinking water in the northwest Missouri town — population 5,609 — had spiked.

Over the next two years, one-quarter of the homes tested exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level — 15 parts per billion — at least once.

The culprit, city and state officials believe, was the monochloramine. It likely corroded old lead pipes and caused the surge of lead in the drinking water. Because it hadn’t detected high levels of lead in years past, Trenton hadn’t been required to test for lead at residents’ taps since 2014.

Until the city got test results, “we just thought maybe it was kind of like an isolated spot,” said Ron Urton, the city administrator and utility director. “And then once we did the test and saw there [were] other elevated places, that’s when we started, I think, kind of figuring out what was going on.”

The 62 homes Trenton tested during that period have lead pipes, or service lines, running from the water mains, Urton said. But beyond that, very little is known about where lead pipes remain in the system with about 3,000 water meters …

Trenton has managed to get its lead levels back down again by adding a compound that reduces corrosion. But, experts say, the only permanent solution to stop lead from seeping into America’s water is to remove the millions of lead pipes that remain 36 years after environmental regulators banned new ones from being installed.

Therein lies the problem. Trenton — like many other water systems — doesn’t know where all of its lead service lines are …


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