America’s lead water crisis extends from coast-to-coast

Update – 4/9, 2:06 p.m. EST: AP is reporting an independent investigation of 75,000 U.S. water systems found 1,400 to have tested at levels exceeding the federal limit for lead (15 ppb), in the period between Jan. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2015.

278 0f the 1,400 serve schools and children’s day care facilities across 41 states.

 

An independent investigation by USA Today has found that nearly 2,000 water systems across all 50 states have tested for lead contamination levels in excess of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards over the past four years, effecting approximately 6 million people.

Similar to the lead water crisis in Flint, Mich., 180 of the system operators failed to warn their customers of the dangerous levels of the metal contaminant — a violation of EPA rules.

Drinking water can be contaminated due to corrosive lead piping, which breaks down over time or is corroded due to high levels of certain elements in the water itself, such as chloride.

When more than 10 percent of tap water samples from a given water system exceed lead levels of over 15 parts per billion (ppb), EPA requires local authorities to fix the problem. Enforcement, however, is handled at the state-level.

To that end, 373 operators across the U.S. have failed to replace corrosive piping in systems which consistently tested lead levels of more than 15 ppb.

Since 2012, 600 water systems were found to have lead levels of more than 30 ppb — nearing what the EPA had previously designated as an “imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of children and pregnant women,” when lead in drinking water reaches 40 ppb.

During the same period, 125 systems reported lead concentrations of over 40 ppb.

In children, lead poisoning can cause brain damage, behavioral disorders and stunted growth. Adults can suffer kidney damage, high blood pressure and heart problems.

An estimated 75 million homes and thousands of schools and public facilities in the U.S. are at risk of having contaminated drinking water due to lead piping which was primarily used in structures built before the 1980s.

Public water main-lines installed before the 1930s which connect to approximately 7.3 million U.S. homes are also at risk of poisoning drinking taps. The EPA has advised water agencies to remove the old pipes, but each individual line is estimated to cost up to $1000’s to replace.

Costs would total out in the $10-to-99 billion range to replace every public lead-water pipe in America.

As a result of the uncertainty that public authorities will be able to correct this problem in the near-future, experts recommend households which receive their tap water from lead pipes first check for high levels of lead using a home test kit or by checking your local Consumer Confidence Report.

Types of test kits vary from a one-time throw away kit at an estimated retail price of $12 to $30, to a photometer instrument for $300 which can also measure mercury and cadmium levels.

If lead levels test above 15 ppb, EPA recommends drinking bottled water until the problem is corrected.

According to the EPA, “there is no safe level of lead exposure,” including inhalation of dust from lead-based paint.

 

[USA Today] [RT America] [Photo courtesy Siddhartha Roy/FilmWaterStudy.org]