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Elevated levels of lead in tap water happen not only in Chicago but worldwide
With temperature predicted to rise by 1.5 - 2 degrees Celsius by 2030, disaster could come with loss going beyond current $4.6 trillion yearly from elevated levels of lead and other toxic elements
Lead pipes, Credit, The Guardian
One in twenty tap water tests performed in Chicago showed lead, a neurotoxic metal, at or above U.S. government levels, said a Guardian story. But Chicago isn’t an exception, because along with Flint in Michigan through results which appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics, experts found high lead levels in tap water in Baltimore, Pittsburg, Detroit, Milwaukee, Newark, New York, and other cities.
In South London, researchers found elevated lead levels at a private estate of about 100 flats, higher than the legal limit of 10 micrograms per deciliter, and advised tenants not to drink their tap water.
Danjiangkou Reservoir, China
Faraway in China, experts found elevated lead levels in the Danjiangkou Reservoir in Hubei province, a major source of water for China’s South-North Water Transfer project, three times above government’s definition of safe levels and 20 times the limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), with the water quality having the worst classification.
Lead tap water in Nigeria, Credit, The Punch
In other words, elevated levels of lead in tap water happen not only in Chicago, but worldwide, including England and China. Fifty-six percent of U.S. population drank from water systems with detectable levels of lead between 2018 and 2020, according to an analysis by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In West Africa, lead-containing materials pollute community water systems, as 80 percent of the 61 tested samples harbored a minimum of one component of lead, with nine percent of the samples exceeding WHO guidelines.
Lead in Michigan drinking water, Credit, Detroit Free Press
Lead pipes in the United States still carry water into millions of homes, more than 30 years after they were banned, so that now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the presence of six to ten million lead service lines across the country, and a 2021 NRDC survey saying 12 million or more of these lead pipes were still in operations. Consequently, between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2020, 186 million people in the United States—a staggering 56 percent of the country's population—drank from drinking water systems having lead levels exceeding the level of 1 part per billion (ppb)
The use of lead plumbering got banned in the United Kingdom more than 25 years ago, but lead pipes may be present in homes constructed before 1970, with new homes using lead solder for jointing copper pipes as a low-cost alternative, putting the lives of many at risk.
Despite the risk involved with the usage of lead in water systems, 25 percent of domestic dwelling in the European Union contains a lead pipe, either as a connection, or as part of the internal plumbing, putting 120 million people at the risk from lead in drinking water.
In essence, millions of people in the European Union face the risk of drinking lead in their water, because nations fail to effectively ban lead pipes in water systems. The same development faces the United Kingdom and the United States, negligent because lead pipes last 75 to 100 years, and replacements could cost huge amounts of money. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 112 million people use rural piped supplies containing lead, meaning hundreds of millions of people worldwide face the challenge. But this entails implications.
With predictions of climate change-induced temperature rise by 1.5 to two degrees centigrade by 2030, drought and water shortages could become endemic, meaning the installation of rainwater tanks, dangerous because roof materials contain lead. Since rainwater harvesting system market valued at $858.9 million in 2020 is projected to reach $1,118.5 million by 2026, at a long term CAGR of 4.5 percent, more people could be exposed to lead in drinking water.
In 2017, children in an Australian lead mining town Broken Hill suffered increases in blood lead levels since 1992, with about 1 in 5 still having blood lead levels higher than the national target of less than 10 micrograms per deciliter, contravening the WHO’s call for reduction from ten to two micrograms per deciliter. In the U.S., children, toddlers and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child-care facilities face the exposure of lead in their water, while researchers estimate that about 500,000 children still have elevated lead levels.
Up to 800 million children globally harbor at or above five micrograms per deciliter of lead in their body, according to a report, which also stated that long-term health effects of lead exposure such as kidney damage and cardiovascular diseases account for an estimated 900,000 deaths a year. An estimated 632 million children in 34 low- and middle-income countries harbor elevated blood lead levels suggestive of lead poisoning, said another report published in the March 2021 issue of The Lancet Planetary Health.
In addition, nearly 400,000 deaths take place every year through diseases attributed to lead contamination, ten times higher than previously thought, after researchers tracked more than 14,000 adults over a period of 20 years. To prevent deaths entail colossal amounts of money, as for example, the cost of lead exposure in Michigan in 2014 reached a total of $270 million ($112 million to be passed to the tax payer). Researchers find that exposing populations to lead in their drinking water causes higher homicide rates 20 years later, relative to similar places where kids avoided such an exposure.
Therefore, the inability to avoid places with lead exposure takes a toll through high costs in economic terms, with blood lead poisoning outbreaks in such places as Washington DC, Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey. Children suffer increases in blood lead levels, and with the intensification of climate change, rainwater harvesting could become a tradition, only it could worsen the situation through roof materials containing lead components.
Continued vigilance and cooperation among agencies and physicians are important to protect children against lead exposure. Homeowners can reduce exposure by adjusting the chemistry of the water so that it is less corrosive, or by replacing lead solder or lead pipes, even though replacing the pipes may be an expensive albeit permanent solution. With solutions such as these, homeowners can reduce risks from lead as well as lessen the burden of treatment from agencies and physicians worldwide.
Lead pipes, Credit, Science
What would it cost to replace all the nation’s lead water pipes? Read this.
US high schoolers design low-cost filter to remove lead from water. Read this.
Making lead pipes safe (video). Read this.
Lead removal at trace concentrations from water by inactive yeast cells. Read this.
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