The water crisis in Flint, Michigan exposed a flawed, dangerous system where lead contamination was severely impacting the health and safety of the residents in the area. But was the crisis in Flint just an anomaly, or is Flint just part of a larger issue with water supplies in America?
Although most of America's water supply systems can be deemed safe in regards to lead concentration, there are still huge gaps in the system that allow lead to remain in tap water, threatening the safety of millions of Americans, including some cases where communities may have little to no idea that they are even being impacted by lead contamination. Lead contamination that exceeds water safety standards has been found many times, both in my home state of North Carolina and around the country, in recent years.
Lead often gets into water supplies through lead-based pipelines, which were common in housing built before 1986 and begins to seep into supplies when those lead pipes begin to erode. Lead can be found in pipes that are in the home and those that connect the home to a water supply. Even lead-free water can become contaminated as it leaves a water treatment facility if it happens to pass through lead pipes or becomes exposed to lead-based solder during the route to a house's water supply.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets a standard of 15 lead parts per billion (ppb) in water. However, there is no safe amount of lead exposure, and exposure to lead can lead to a wide variety of serious symptoms, including brain damage. The effects of exposure are particularly severe in children.
Yet there are ways for individuals to protect themselves from lead exposure. Testing water for lead contamination is the only way to accurately determine if exposure is occurring. According to the EPA, testing costs between $20 and $100, and should be done in any state-approved laboratory. The best way to find those labs would be to look up your state's directory.
However, if none are available there are home testing kits you could use as well. You can also view a Consumer Confidence Report for each state, which has information about water quality. If water contains above the EPA standard for safe lead content, it's best to follow the Center for Disease Control's tips to minimize exposure.
Although lead contamination in water supplies is not a frequent issue, it occurs more commonly than it should and can have severe impact on those affected. Be sure to take the steps necessary to keep yourself and those you care about safe.