By now, most of us have heard about the devastating lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan.
In April of 2014, Flint’s government opted to change its municipal water source from the clean waters of Lake Huron to the highly contaminated Flint River. The water from the river was so corrosive that it ate away at the old iron and lead pipes that deliver water to many of Flint’s residents, causing lead to leach into the water supply.
According to MichaelMoore.com
, this decision was made in order to save the city a measly $9000; some outlets are reporting that it will cost $300 billion to clean up the aftermath.
One of Our Worst Public Health Crises
This is one of the most disturbing and horrifying public outrages conceivable and could turn out to be one of the worst public health crises in US history.
The reports of skin rashes, miscarriages, mood disturbances, and potential brain damage are only the beginning. The children who drank lead contaminated water for almost two years will potentially suffer a lifetime’s worth of medical and personality problems that could ruin entire families and see many affected become criminals who spend much of their lives in jail. Several deaths from Legionnaire’s Disease have already been potentially linked to the contaminated water supply.
Unfortunately, the rest of the United States is not necessarily free of lead contamination, and there are other sources of lead poisoning that are far more common than contaminated water. It is hard to believe, but there is evidence that suggests that children in dozens of cities in our area may have worse incidences of lead exposure than in Flint. Despite the efforts of advocacy groups in our area, the lead problems have not received the necessary press and attention of public health officials, but that is beginning to change.
Lead in the Philadelphia Water Supply
While the installation of lead pipes in Philadelphia ended in 1986, there are still 50,000 homes in the city that have not been refitted with non-lead service pipes. Many of these are in low-income neighborhoods where the owners cannot afford the expense of installing new water pipes.
According to local health advocacy groups, the city’s testing methods are inadequate to give a true picture of the amount of lead in Philadelphia’s water. What’s more, experts say that the city could be doing more to prevent lead in those homes that still have lead pipes — such as adding an anti-corrosive to the water that would reduce leaching.
If you are unsure whether your residence is still being served by lead pipes, take the following precautions to reduce your family’s chances of lead poisoning:
- Get Your Water Tested for Lead – Some local authorities will perform the test for free; otherwise, you can buy an inexpensive kit at home-improvement stores.
- Run Your Taps – Run your taps in the morning for about 30 seconds before drinking the water to flush any water that might have been sitting in the pipes and collecting lead overnight.
- Hot Tap Water – Do not use hot tap water for cooking or drinking, as lead dissolves more readily into warm water than cold.
- Do Not Boil Water – Do not expect to remove lead by boiling tap water. In fact, lead will become more concentrated in boiled water from the loss of volume to steam.
- Purchase Water Filters – Some water filters can remove lead. Do your research and purchase a filter from a reputable dealer.
Lead-Based Paint a Greater Danger Than Water
While lead-contaminated water is a potential problem wherever there are outdated pipes, the greatest danger from lead exposure actually comes from chipping and flaking paint in older homes. Seventy-nine million homes were built in the US before lead was banned from paint in 1978, and 50 billion square feet of lead-containing painted surfaces still exist in the United States.
Children in low-income families are at the greatest risk, as they are the most likely to live in homes with outdated and crumbling paint. Children under the age of four absorb five times more of the lead that they take into their bodies than adults do. According to the LEAD Group
, a fingernail-sized paint chip that contains lead is enough to cause dangerously high lead levels in a child. A piece of lead dust the size of a grain of sand can poison a small child.
Lead Poisoning in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
There is some debate as to the reliability of available testing methods, but recent studies show that there are many areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey where there appear to be alarmingly high concentrations of children who have been exposed to lead. Health advocates have been trying for years to garner attention for their evidence that children in PA and NJ are in danger of lead exposure.
Philadelphia tested nearly 36,000 children under the age of seven in 2014 and found that more than 10 percent may have blood lead levels above 5. In Pennsylvania overall, 13,000 children were estimated to have unacceptably high blood lead levels in 2014. While this represented a 7 percent decrease from the previous year, if these numbers are correct, they are unacceptable. The numbers in New Jersey were not much better. As many as 5,400 New Jersey children were estimated to have sustained an unacceptable exposure to lead as of 2014.
It is estimated that more than 3 percent of children under the age of six in Flint have blood levels greater than 5. By comparison, there are reports of cities in our area that far exceed those numbers: 7 percent in East Orange, 10 percent in Atlantic City, 14 percent in Bethlehem, and more than 23 percent in Allentown.
The Horrifying Consequences of Lead Poisoning
According to the US government, there is no safe amount of exposure to lead. The federal standard for public health action to be taken has been cut in half in recent years from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. At a level of 5, IQ, development, and behavior may all be affected. Disturbingly, New Jersey’s threshold remains at 10 micrograms despite the change in the federal standard.
There is seemingly no body system that cannot be damaged by lead poisoning. Exposure to lead in childhood can create permanent and irreversible damage. Kidney failure, learning disabilities, slow physical development, hearing issues, visual impairment, and headaches are just a few of the possible maladies.
Adults who have been exposed to lead long term may experience high blood pressure and cardiac issues, impaired kidney function, difficulty concentrating, miscarriages or reduced fertility, neurological problems, and more. There is no known treatment to reverse the damage inflicted by lead poisoning.
Research shows that lead exposure has been linked to higher incarceration rates, violence, and aggressive behavior in adults.
Put Donaghue & Labrum to Work for You
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been exposed to lead in your home, at school, or from your water supply, it is important to contact an attorney immediately. Lead testing is not an exact science, and you will need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to help to determine whether your landlord, the previous owner of your home, or the local government may be at fault. Call Donaghue & Labrum now for a free consultation to discuss your concerns about the dangerous effects of lead poisoning.