Five years ago, the public became aware of the lead water crisis present in Flint, Michigan. Today, the effects of the contamination and of the water cleanup are still being felt by the residents as they live off of bottled water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician that first concluded that children were being exposed to high levels of lead from the drinking water, has found staggering results for the number of children that will have to have additional learning support. There is no safe level of lead exposure and Dr. Mona claims that nearly 14,000 kids under the age of 6 have been exposed to lead contamination. Read More.
Hunters in the United States commonly use lead based ammunition that can cause lead contamination in meat. Hunters have expressed that they are either unaware of these concerns or are mistrustful of the sources that have presented the research. In either case, public health officials are seeking a line of open communication to warn hunters and their families about the dangers of lead consumption. Read More.
What is Under the Surface?
By Liz Goodiel
Across the country, there has been a growing awareness for communities affected by water and soil samples contaminated with hazardous substances, including lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, arsenic, and more. The presence of such dangerous chemicals have disrupted the lives of residents, children and susceptible individuals that come involuntarily into contact with them on a daily basis. The concern comes when communities operate as normal with no knowledge of what could potentially be sitting below the surface.
In 2018, a community on the western side of Atlanta discovered unhealthy levels of lead in their soil. The contamination was discovered when Emory University’s PhD student Sam Peters, conducted an investigation on the presence of heavy metals in the soil of residential gardens. As the research project grew, Emory students tested the soil for the presence of lead, in addition to a number of other heavy metal and found levels of lead exceeding the EPA’s residential screening level. Maintaining a personal garden is very popular on the west side of Atlanta, with over 160 families participating in the practice. Residents have in fact been encouraged to garden as a way to provide low-income families with a source of healthy and sustainable food options.
Two years later, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken to testing and digging up contaminated soils for cleanup. Located west of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the lead investigation covers 368 properties over a span of 35 city blocks. Although it has not been confirmed, the EPA has speculated that the source of the contamination is the result of properties having been constructed on top of slag, a by-product of smelting, or the melting of metals, that leaves behind an array of heavy metals.
According to the EPA, lead exposure can lead to long-term nerve damage, increased blood pressure, reproductive problems, and hearing and vision impairments. Among children, lead poisoning can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, liver and kidney damage, developmental delays, behavioral problems and in extreme cases, death. The question that arises from the discovery of such high levels of lead in the soil is how long people have been exposed to the dangerous chemical through the consumption of gardened produce, children playing on top of contaminated soil and everyday proximity inhalation.
The question that also arises is how far the contamination can actually be spread and how many additional families could be affected? As part of the EPA cleanup project, many residential trees have been removed, resulting in increased instances of flooding. Although there are plans to replace removed trees and shrubs, flooding could spread the lead contamination to areas outside the site’s boundaries. Families outside the boundaries could potentially be at risk of contamination if they have not already been contaminated.
Soil and water contamination continues to be a growing concern across the country from operating or abandoned facilities, landfills, mining operations, pipelines, etc. Community members and susceptible populations (children, the elderly, pregnant women, etc.) are consistently exposed to the dangers of hazardous pollutants. Areas such as Atlanta, Georgia, Flint, Michigan and Asheville, North Carolina, to name a few, continue to work for the clean up of their communities. It is important to continue to encourage the appropriate and accurate testing of water and soil samples that people are exposed to on a daily basis and to monitor and enforce the safe cleanup of all communities.
Families within the Atlanta area are continuing to sign up for the testing of their properties and to have their children tested for possible lead poisoning.
For more information or questions on lead testing please contact our Science Director, Stephen Lester at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Curtis Compton for AJC
Mastery Frederick Douglas Elementary School in North Philadelphia tested drinking water fountains to find the presence of lead and failed to adequately notify parents. The Philadelphia school district holds a threshold level of 10 ppb for lead in drinking water while lead inspectors found one fountain in the elementary school with levels exceeding 1,700 pbb and a second fountain with levels around 3,500 ppb. Despite finding such extreme levels of lead in the drinking water, school officials failed to directly communicate the findings to parents. Read More.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has awarded Akron, Ohio $4.6 million to assist in lead removal in homes. HUD is releasing grant money to communities combatting lead exposure as a part of the National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. With the assistance of the grant, Akron will be able to control lead hazards in 250 homes and perform a “healthy homes” assessment for an additional 150 housing units. HUD has released additional grants to Summit County, the city of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County. Read More.
National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week
October 20th to the 26th is established as National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. This week is designed to bring annual attention to the dangers of lead exposure and how communities, agencies, and the government can work together to limit those exposures. The EPA began the week by releasing a progress report on the government’s plan to reduce childhood exposure to lead. The EPA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to bring awareness and organize preventive measures to reduce children vulnerability to lead. Read More.
The EPA has revealed new rules for drinking water quality testing and water line repair actions for the presence of lead. The updated regulations are the first significant changes since the establishment of the lead and copper standards in 1991. The new rules will require water testing in all homes with lead service lines and the production of a public inventory listing all lead water systems. Additional rules include federal action towards replacing sections of contaminated pipes. Some environmental advocates claim that although the updated regulations are a start, they do not hit at the root cause of the lead contamination: replacing the 6 million lead service lines spread across the country. Read More.
As Children’s Health Month continues, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a memorandum stating its improved action towards eliminating lead contamination in school and childcare water systems. In support of the Lead Action Plan, the EPA’s MOU lists ways partnering agencies, water utilities, and community health specialists can work together to train, identify, and remove lead from children’s drinking water. Read More.
New Jersey officials announced Monday, September 23, that EPA approved faucet filters have effectively made water in Newark, NJ safe to drink from lead contamination. The state is now waiting for the Trump administration to pass the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that will allow states to reallocate funds to address public health problems. New Jersey has been able to replace more than 900 of the 6,500 homes in Newark that have requested lead service line replacements. The passage of the bill will allow the city to be able to further replace the 18,000 privately owned service lines throughout Newark. Read More.
The Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act would give states facing public health crises from lead in drinking water the flexibility to make a one-time transfer, up to $100 million, of the federal funds in their Clean Water State Revolving Fund to their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for projects that will remove lead from drinking water. Read More.