Dangerous amounts of lead in the Flint, Michigan water systems have the entire country up in arms about water safety, but sadly, this issue is not isolated and is more widespread than we ever imagined. A USA Today Network investigation found that almost 2,000 water systems across all 50 states have excessive lead levels, and many of them service schools and childcare centers. While the EPA says there are no safe lead levels, some of the water systems tested 10-40 times higher than the EPA’s limit of 15 parts per billion, with one Ithaca elementary school’s water meeting the criteria for hazardous waste. Lead, which is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women, has been associated with reduced cognitive ability, attention disorders, kidney problems, and high blood pressure. While we’d like to pretend that the lead exposure is someone else’s problem, it could be affecting water systems that your family is dependent upon. So just to recap: we can’t trust the government to safely regulate food, air, the environment, or water. You can, however, read on for more information and to find out how you can test your own home’s water and treat as necessary. 

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Image © Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com

While Flint’s problem stems from the local government switching to a more corrosive water source and then not treating those corrosive properties even as the water went through old lead service lines, lead can still be a problem even when the actual water source is lead-free. Homes built before 1980 (of which there are about 75 million in the country) are likely to contain some lead plumbing. So even if the water that leaves the water treatment plant doesn’t contain any lead, lead could get into individual homes or water systems during the path from water source to your tap or your child’s school water fountain. While testing does take place on a regular basis in many cities, it’s not a perfect system. My house was built in 1901 and almost definitely contains lead pipes; the apartment complex two doors down was gutted and refurbished last year. If the government took a water sample from my house, it would likely get very different lead levels than if it were to take one from my neighbor’s. In areas or systems with less infrastructure, regular testing can even be delayed or slip through the cracks, hiding a problem for a longer period of time. Even when dangerous lead levels are identified, water systems often failed to notify customers of the issue and some were cited multiple times for this lack of communication with consumers despite the EPA’s specific timeline guidelines.

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The EPA is reevaluating its regulations and expects within the next year to have revisions including action plans at both the household level and on a larger scale. Replacing lead service lines is an ultimate goal, but this lengthy process is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars. While this news is scary, there are certain things you can do for your family and in your community. Healthy Child Healthy World recommends buying a carbon-based, faucet-mounted water filter for your home, using filtered water for cooking and drinking, requesting your water utility provider’s report, and testing your own household’s water. If you find anything troubling or if you are generally concerned with water safety, speak up and bring others’ attention to this issue. Samples from Flint’s water supply actually passed the government’s required lead tests. So it looks like taking matters into your own hands is a safer bet.

via USA Today

Lead image © Gaetan-L via Shutterstock