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Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water

The U.S. General Accounting Office reports that there are serious deficiencies in water treatment plants in 75% of the states. More than 120 million people ( about 50% of the population) may get unsafe water according to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.S. Health Officials estimate 900,000 people each year become ill - and possibly 900 die - from waterborne disease. The General Accounting Office estimates 66% of Safe Drinking Water Act violations aren’t reported.

The contamination of water is directly related to the degree of contamination of our environment. Rainwater flushes airborne pollution from the skies, and then washes over the land before running into the, rivers, aquifers, and lakes that supply our drinking water. All of the chemicals generated by man will eventually end up in our water supplies. Nearly 70% of Americans are worried about the quality of their drinking water, yet few realize that water that looks, tastes and smells good can be hazardous to your health.

Lead is considered the number one health threat to children, and the effects of lead poisoning can last a lifetime. Not only does lead poisoning stunt a child’s growth, damage the nervous system, and cause learning disabilities, but it is also now linked to crime and anti-social behavior in children.

Lead is a soft material that is resistant to corrosion. Lead has been used by many civilizations to transport water, and used as early as the times of Rome. Lead is used primarily for lead pipe line, lead solder and brass fixtures. Lead is also added to metal alloys such as brass and bronze, as such, it is used in water faucets and fixtures. Lead has a variety of other uses. Lead is a toxic substance and has adverse effects on human health. Even low levels in drinking water, when continuously ingested, will cause a deterioration in health. Exposure to lead produces many different health problems. These effects are cumulative and usually are irreversible, especially in sensitive populations such as fetuses, children, and pregnant women .

It has long been known that lead in drinking water is highly toxic, and recent developments have increased the level of concern. Contamination of drinking water with significant levels of lead is much more widespread than previously believed, and levels that were once considered safe are now known to be health threats. Exposure to lead is cumulative over time. High concentrations of lead in the body can cause death or permanent damage to the central nervous system, the brain, and kidneys. This damage commonly results in behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity), memory and concentration problems, high blood pressure, hearing problems, headaches, slowed growth, reproductive problems in both men and women, digestive problems, muscle and joint pain.

Infants, children, pregnant women, and fetuses are more vulnerable to lead exposure than others because the lead is more easily absorbed into the sensitive tissue of actively growing bodies. An equal concentration of lead is more destructive in a child than in an adult. Pregnant women should also be especially cautious about lead exposure, because it can cause premature birth, and reduce the birth weight of babies.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control reports approximately 7,500 cases of illness linked to drinking water in the United States each year. This number is much lower than what is generally accepted because drinking water contaminants are often not considered in the diagnoses of illnesses. Lead is "a highly toxic metal the agency considers a major public health threat.", according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The national Centers for Disease Control considers lead to be the country's number one preventable pediatric health problem. More than 30 Million Americans are drinking water with lead levels in excess of the Maximum Contaminant Level set by the EPA.

According to the recently released lead toxicological profile for lead from Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the adverse health effects of lead range from slight increases in blood pressure at 10 ug/dL to severe retardation and even death at very high blood-lead levels of 100 ug/dL. High lead levels in pregnant women increase the risk of complications in their pregnancies, and damage to the fetuses. High lead in men can cause heart attack, high blood pressure, strokes, and hypertension.

Over 98% of homes in the U.S. have pipes that contain lead or lead solder. The main sources are lead pipes, or copper pipes connected by lead solder, and from brass faucets, which also contain lead ( most chrome plated faucets are made of brass which is 8% lead). The level of lead in tap water should not exceed 5 parts per billion.

Here is what the experts say:

According to the USA TODAY, May 12, 1993, "Drinking water supplied to 30 million people in 819 cities contains unhealthy levels of lead", an unprecedented new EPA study says. Children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning, which can impair mental and physical development.".

Children’s lead exposure is linked to crime, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, February 7, 1996. " Researchers using a new test that looks for lead in the bones instead of the blood say exposure to the toxic metal may contribute to crime and anti-social behavior in children."

Link to Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water

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