Lead Contamination in Water (US)

By: Gabriel Newman/Ethan Lundblad

Link to Interactive Graph

visualisation Estimated Number of Total Lead Pipes by State | Flourish

Why is Lead Contamination in our water an issue?

Lead is contaminating our drinking water supply, and it’s affecting every state across the country. The graphic above measures the amount of Lead Service Lines per state (LSLS). Lead is a strong neurotoxin that can affect people permanently. There is no acceptable threshold of lead exposure for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the EPA, low exposure levels in children have been associated to blood cell damage, learning problems, shorter stature, poor hearing, and damage to the brain and neurological system. Adults who are exposed can develop cardiovascular disease, have negative effects on their ability to reproduce, and have kidney problems, among other serious health effects. Millions of Americans are nevertheless exposed to lead every day because their drinking water travels through lead pipes, despite these established health hazards.

Why are some states more effected than others?

The NRDC (Nation Resources Defense Council) asked for total lead water pipe estimates from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. in an effort to describe the problem’s size and geographic extent. They were only able to get statewide lead pipe estimates from 10 states (AK, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, MI, NJ, OR, WI, and DC). 23 states (AL, AZ, DE, FL, ID, IA, LA, ME, MD, MT, NC, ND, NH, NM, NV, NY, OH, PA, SD, TN, TX, UT, WV) informed them that after several follow-ups that they do not keep track of the quantity of lead pipes and were unable to furnish us with those numbers. Several states, including GA, MA, and MO, claimed that they are now inspecting their lead pipe infrastructure. Despite making at least three requests for these data, a number of states (AR, KS, KY, MS, NE, OK, RI, SC, VT, and WY) did not provide them. Data from four states (HI, MN, VA, and WA) could only be provided for a portion of the state, making it useless for survey purposes. Therefore, the data provided has a rough estimate for some of the states that were unable to provide sufficient data. The data provided for those states was estimated by the NRDC, and not provided by the respective state’s leaders.

Can contaminated water be used for non-drinking purposes?

While it is very unsafe to drink contaminated water, it is actually safe to wash your dishes. The dishes will not soak up the lead in the water. Laundry is also safe to do. The lead will not soak into most clothes, but it’s important to double check before washing. However, tasks like cooking, and brushing your teeth are not safe when water is contaminated. One way to remove lead from water is through reverse osmosis, distillation, and activated carbon filtration. The other option is replacing all of the pipes in one’s home, but that is a much more expensive option.

“Lead in Drinking Water.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Feb. 2023, www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/sources/water.htm.

“We Sampled Tap Water across the US – and Found Arsenic, Lead and Toxic Chemicals.” The Guardian, 31 Mar. 2021, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/31/americas-tap-water-samples-forever-chemicals.

Are there any solutions being proposed?

Unfortunately solutions are hard to come by in recent years. The only solution is to replace all lead pipes with pipes that do not contain lead. The only issue with that is the bureaucratic process that stands in the way of progress. On the local level, like cities, they have been changing their pipes for years now. These places include Galesburg, IL. However not every city has the necessary resources to do this and needs assistance on the federal level. That assistance has not been able to pass through the senate. “Legislation passed last year by the House of Representatives would have authorized Lead Pipes Are zed $22.5bn to replace lead service lines across the US, according to the NRDC, but the bill died in the Senate.” The only way change will happen is if people start to acknowledge the issue and participate in political advocacy.

“Lead Pipes Are Widespread and Used in Every State” NRDC, 8 July. 2021, Lead Pipes Are Widespread and Used in Every State (nrdc.org)

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