Know Your Contaminant: Lead

Across the country — from Flint to Philadelphia to Los Angeles and everywhere in-between — citizens are outraged because of their water. Every day, families are learning that the water pouring through their taps may contain toxic lead. Though once a major building block of our society, we all now know the dangers that lead can hold. As a result we now have a set of regulations ensuring that lead is no longer used in construction, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all gone.

Come learn about exactly what lead contamination is, where is comes from, and what you can do about it.

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The Impact of Lead Contamination

Due to their still developing bodies, children are at particular risk when it comes to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can have a particular impact on children’s brains & nervous systems, with the EPA warning of the following dangers:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems

– Anemia

These are very significant impacts, often leading to lifelong issues. One major study even links lead levels to a rise in violent crimes over the course of the 20th century,

Pregnant women must also be especially careful, as lead can be transferred straight to the fetus, resulting in similar risks to those of children, in addition to slowed fetal development or even premature birth.

In adults, lead poisoning is a huge risk too. The EPA states that lead poisoning can lead to:
Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
Decreased kidney function
Reproductive problems

Altogether, these are incredibly impactful outcomes, so minimizing lead intake is a very vital step to take.

Where Lead Contamination Comes From

While we now know just how harmful lead poisoning can be, this certainly was not always the case. Before the 1930s, the pipes used in building, whether that be houses or other properties, were made from lead. While lead pipes were phased out for copper after that, the soldering used in those lead pipes through the 1980s also contained a high level of lead.

What’s more, these lead pipes were used in more than just properties, but also the big infrastructure projects that defined that era. During FDR’s famed New Deal in the 1930s, vital infrastructure like electrification, road paving, and plumbing were rolled out to the masses. When these large scale projects were built out, they were done so with the materials of the day, and for plumbing that meant lead pipes.

This is exactly why cities like Flint, Michigan are facing massive crises — the most basic infrastructure used to carry their water is the problem. When the pipes are bad, so is the water.

Ultimately, the use of lead in these pipes caused the metal to leach into the water being carried through it over time. That means that when the water sits in these pipes, they corrode bit by bit — especially the older ones.

How to Know if Your Water has Lead Contamination

At the end of the day, it’s hard to know if your water is carrying some lead in it. Lead contamination is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, so it cannot be detected by any simple means. Further, considering how great a pathway your water takes on it’s route to your glass, there’s just no way to know where it’s been.

So, as it stands now, the only way to know whether or not your water is contaminated is through testing. Only a full and thorough water test can tell you if and how much lead your water contains.

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