Possible Lead Contamination in Water Problem Hits More Cities

Protests in New Orleans in 2016       Photo: Matthew Hinton, BuzzFeed News

New Orleans city officials, according to BuzzFeed News, buried a 2017 city Inspector General Report that showed that they had failed to test for lead in the water and they claimed that the City’s water was safe even though they were unable to locate the city’s many lead pipes — both of which they are required to do under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.  And last week, water samples from 27 schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia were found to have levels of lead higher than industry safety recommendations.

  • BuzzFeed News reports that in 2016 “about 11% of the kids under 6 in New Orleans tested for blood lead showed concentrations at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter (the CDC maintains that no level of blood lead is safe for children).”
  • That’s far higher than the national figure — 2.5% of kids between 1 and 5 — and double the rate in Flint during the water crisis there, when 5% of kids tested had blood lead levels that high.”

Why This Matters:   Lead exposure is extremely bad for children.  According to the World Health Organization, children are “particularly vulnerable” to lead poisoning. Experts say that young children absorb 4-5 times more of the lead they ingest than adults, and high levels of lead in the bloodstream can adversely affect the development of their nervous systems and brains.  Now we see how this is playing itself out in real-time.  In Flint, as we noted in Bright Ideas last Saturday, according to a recent report in The New York Times, neurological and behavioral problems among students are threatening to overwhelm the education system.  Millions of American homes and businesses still have lead pipes delivering their water.  And the public has a right to know whether lead is contaminating their water —  a warning that New Orleans’ residents did not receive, according to the City’s Inspector General.

More Lead Contamination and Laws

The issue of lead contamination has now been raised in states across the country.

  • On October 10th, Governor Newsome of California signed a new law that workers in the state who have high blood lead levels will now have their cases referred to the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health – or Cal/OSHA – for review and possible action against their employers who are supposed to control lead exposure.
  • The state of Minnesota recently ordered a Twin Cities manufacturer (Water Gremlin) to shut down, saying the children of its workers have been poisoned by lead dust carried home from the factory unwittingly by their parents on shoes, clothing, and vehicles.

Scientists Have Long Understood the Seriousness of Lead Poisoning

A new online exhibit of the U.S. National Library of Medicine details the 100-year history of citizens confronting the lead and fossil fuel industries, housing authorities, and government leaders to protect themselves from the dangers of lead poisoning.  It is worth your time.  It highlights the times over the last century when the dangers of lead poisoning became clear.

  • In 1970, the Clean Air Act became law and it required the phase-out and ultimately the elimination of leaded gasoline in the U.S. by the late 1980s.
  • In 1959, the Bruco Battery Company illegally dumped 500 used battery casings in an African American neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side.
  • But the study of lead’s toxicity goes back to the early 20th century when a physician name Alice Hamilton in Chicago published investigative reports about the dangers of lead poisoning of immigrant workers.

To Go Deeper:  Read the full BuzzfeedNews article about New Orleans’ water issues here.

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