Drinking Water Lead Poisoning. The lead contamination issue that made headlines in Flint, Michigan-although likely the most serious lead contamination in the country-is not the only instance of lead being found in water supplies nationwide in homes, and schools, including school water fountains.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially in children. USA Today notes that lead tainted water has been found in hundreds of schools across the country.
Individuals are advised to ensure that their homes are free of lead by ensuring there is no lead in the paint used in their homes, no lead in the pipes, and no lead in the water. Schools should be asked to check for lead in their paint, water, and pipes, as well. Parents and caretakers are also advised to ask their physicians to check their children’s blood lead levels to determine if a child has been exposed to lead.
The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in lawsuits over lead injury and lead poisoning. The firm offers free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing a water contamination lawsuit.
According to a prior The New York Times report following budget cuts that led to water source changes, as many as 8,000 children who are under six years of age have been exposed to hazardous, high lead levels. In children, even small amounts of lead exposure may lead to developmental problems.
Also, according to The New York Times, in 2016 in the town of Sebring, Ohio, unsafe levels of lead were discovered in the drinking water there. In that case, the lead contamination originated when workers stopped adding a chemical that prevents corrosion in lead water pipes; yet, city officials took five months to protect pregnant women and children. Other lead contamination occurred in Washington D.C. after the city changed its methods for disinfecting its drinking water. In 2001, home tap water had levels that were as high as 20 times more than the federally approved level. In this case, residents were unaware about the issue for three years and when residents were finally notified, officials made repairs that ultimately only prolonged the lead exposure. Lead exposure has also been reported in a number of other cities such as Durham and Greenville, North Carolina in 2006 and Columbia, South Carolina in 2005. In 2015, lead was identified in Jackson, Mississippi and residents were not advised for six months.
There are 53,000 community water systems in the United States. While many scientists and federal officials agree that most are safe, water contamination issues such as the one that occurred in Flint make the issue of regulatory loopholes clearer. For example, clean water laws regulate levels of toxic pollutants, but do not cover water utility-tapped streams, which serve one-third of the population, according to the EPA. Even when purified, water often travels through very old pipes in need of repair. And, although Congress banned lead water pipes 30 years ago, some 3.3 million to 10 million older pipes are still in place and may release lead into the drinking water when the water chemistry changes or when jostled, for instance, by repairs.
“We have a lot of threats to the water supply,” Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of the EPA’s Drinking Water Committee, told The New York Times. “And we have lots of really good professionals in the water industry who see themselves as protecting the public good. But it doesn’t take much for our aging infrastructure or an unprofessional actor to allow that protection to fall apart.”
Lead Health Reactions
Lead poses myriad dangers to children, adults, and the environment. Even at low levels, lead may cause serious effects on the pediatric cardiovascular system and stress responses and may also lead to high blood pressure. In fact, lead poisoning is the greatest environmental health threat to children under the age of six because their growing bodies absorb lead more easily than adult bodies. What’s more, childhood exposure to lead may lead to permanent brain damage.
A known neurotoxin, lead exposure in children and fetuses may cause brain and nervous system damage and may also cause behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and other health problems. Of particular concern is the developing brain because negative influences may have long-lasting effects and may continue well into puberty and longer. According to the 1997 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 16.4 percent of children living in cities with over one million people and living in homes built before 1946 have elevated blood lead levels. There is also a connection between lead and lowered test scores and reduced brain function. In fact research involving lead data and test scores revealed that higher lead levels correlated to a worsening of test scores.
Lead is known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, may cause damage to the nervous system. In high doses, lead poisoning may lead to seizure, coma, and death. Experts agree that there is no safe level of lead.
Lead poisoning is difficult to recognize because it manifests with subtle symptoms and there are no definitive indicators that point to contamination. When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered. Children with lead poisoning may experience irritability, sleeplessness or excess lethargy, poor appetite, headaches, abdominal pain with or without vomiting, and generally without diarrhea, constipation, and changes in activity level. A child with lead toxicity may be iron deficient and pale because of anemia and may be either hyperactive or lethargic. There may also be dental pointers, for instance, lead lines on gingival tissue.