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Drop by contaminated drop, we’ve been slowly discovering the poisonous effects of toxins in our tap water. Our water sources have recently been testing positive for a wide selection of disinfection byproducts, chemicals, heavy metals, and even pharmaceutical drugs.

For instance, fluoride and arsenic, two scary contaminants, are lurking in our nation’s public drinking sources. And in the last few months, with the Flint, Michigan water crisis , it seems like lead is yet another toxin that is infiltrating the majority of the country’s water system because of old pipes.

Lead is a deadly neurotoxin that can cause stunted growth and brain damage in young children. Though it’s rare, people die from lead poisoning. This s*** just got super real.

Flint, Michigan, a city of nearly 100,000, has announced a state of emergency and the people can no longer drink their tap water. This could have easily been avoided. Officials denied the water’s dangers right up until a local pediatrician documented high lead levels in Flint kids’ blood last fall. How did things get this bad? It all comes down to money.

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In order to lower the local water budget, Flint officials decided to temporarily reroute the city’s water source, using water from the Flint River that wasn’t properly treated. The water from the Flint River was dirty, and it wasn’t treated with phosphate. Phosphate is a corrosion inhibitor, which means it keeps water from corroding the older lead pipes that dominate many city water systems.

As a result of the poorly-treated water, the entire city suffered lead poisoning, as research demonstrated, for well over a year, with toxicity levels 13,000 times above a safe reading. Governor Snyder of Michigan, the emergency manager in Flint, and the state environmental ignored this as long as they could, even withholding information from the public.

Between 6,000 and 12,000 children have already been exposed to high levels of lead through the tap water, which means they are at risk of various serious health problems.

According to Robert Weitz, a certified lead inspector and assessor and founder of RTK Environmental Group, “The future is going to be a challenge for Flint residents, and they likely have no concept of the true damage that was done. … The residents of Flint were exposed to toxic levels of lead for more than 2 years. A speck of lead dust is enough to poison a child.”

Weitz reminds us that the people of Flint where drinking the water, bathing in it, and washing their clothes and dishes.

Unfortunately, the most serious effects of lead poisoning will not show up for years. They include permanent brain damage, neurological and behavioral issues, and tendencies for violence, ADHD, and autism-like symptoms.

Once children reach school-age, the symptoms generally start to worsen.

“This will have a major financial impact on the community as well, as many of these children will likely need special services in school and throughout life,” adds Weitz.”

The lead contamination in Flint  is also a possible cause of a national outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease, which has already killed 10 people and affected another 77.

Money is a big factor when it comes to fixing our water issues across the nation. City planners have often skimped costs on installing proper water piping, which leaves us with a faulty water system. Billions of gallons of water disappear on a daily basis, throughout the country, due to leaky pipes. It’s easy to ignore the drops of water that leak out of a pipe here or there, but it all adds up. Houston alone lost 22 billion gallons to leaky pipes in 2012.

The mayor of Flint estimated that it would cost as much as $1.5 billion to fix or replace lead pipes. Repairing the whole country’s water and wastewater systems could cost $1.3 trillion or more, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“There are many officials who will lie,” Weitz attests, “because it is going to be an expensive proposition to fix the aging water system. What officials need to realize is that the investment in protecting our children and citizens now will be minuscule compared to the financial burden they will face in the future having to care for a lead poisoned community.”

 How Bad Is The Lead Situation Nationwide?

A report last month by Yanan Wang of the Washington Post stated that 12 states found “a greater percentage of kids under six years old met or surpassed” blood-lead levels of at least 5 micrograms per deciliter — the threshold requiring public health action, as defined by the federal government.

“The most egregious example is Pennsylvania, where 8.5 percent of the children tested were found to have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood,” wrote Wang.

According to another Washington Post article by Darryl Fears, “Water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples, risking a dangerous spread of the toxic water crisis that has gripped Flint.”

The article went on to explain how an anonymous source— with extensive knowledge of the lead and copper regulations— provided documentation on the controversial approach to water testing. It showed that this approach takes place in “every major US city east of the Mississippi. By word of mouth, this has become the thing to do in the water industry. The logical conclusion is that millions of people’s drinking water is potentially unsafe.”

“The infrastructure in many cities and towns around the US is old, so even if the water is top quality, like in NYC, it goes through old pipes, plumbing fixtures, and more”says Weitz.

It will be expensive to fix, but the long-term devastation will cost a lot more. The fact is, this is happening in towns and cities all over the US. And it’s not just in public water systems, says Weitz.

“Private wells are susceptible to lead, radon, bacteria, heavy metals, and more. Water may test fine one day, and something could shift or break, and a few weeks later there is a major problem.”

Alison Young and Mark Nichols of USA Today report that, according to experts, there are an estimated 7.3 million homes connected to their utility’s water mains by individual lead service lines – and these homes are at highest risk.

“The water passes through what amounts to ‘a pure lead straw,’ says Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor who has studied water contamination in Flint and a similar, earlier crisis in Washington, D.C.

“Lead service lines were mostly installed before the 1930s, although some communities continued to lay lead pipes for decades longer.”

What Can We Do?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like government officials are going to take the necessary steps to fix our country’s water issues anytime soon. We can and should make sure that we are testing our water supplies ourselves. If you live in one of the places reported to have significant amounts of lead filtering into the water system, you should make sure that you get your children to the doctor and have their blood tested for lead.

Checking the amount of lead in your water system  is not a simple thing to. If you really want to get a sense of the contaminants in your home’s water supply, it’s best to make a consultation with a reliable water testing and filtration company. For instance you can call a Water Quality Specialist at Clean Water Revival and they will go over your municipal water results. Mention HoneyColony and get a discount!  You can drink bottled water – but what about the water you cook with? It’s far more sustainable to install a water filtration system that specifically takes out the most dangerous toxins in your water system – including lead.

Weitz is a big proponent of getting your water tested. “The importance of unbiased testing of your water is critical. You can’t rely on others to tell the truth about your water, as is the case in Flint. Lead can enter the water system at many different points – pipes that leach, inferior filtration measures at nearby water treatment plants, well components, pumps, supply lines, plumbing, plumbing fixtures, pipes, and the supply lines from the well and/or municipal water supply. So even if the water tests safe at one point in the system, it may not be safe at another.”

And this doesn’t mean we should give up lobbying our governing officials, either. Everyone deserves to have access to pure drinking water – let’s hope we can make it happen soon.

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