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Ten U.S. Cities May Face Elevated Lead Risks Due To Aging Water Systems: Bloomberg

A new report suggests at least 10 U.S. cities have aged water supply lines that may be contaminating residential drinking water with elevated levels of lead, highlighting a potential national health crisis.

Bloomberg released a new report this week, which warns that lead levels in drinking water in at least 10 cities exceed safe levels due to aging lead pipes, prompting many expensive and lengthy campaigns to remove and replace water supply lines.

The report was released after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that Newark, New Jersey faces a water contamination crisis which has left more than 200,000 city residents without safe drinking water.

Bloomberg’s report indicates the city of Newark is not alone, noting that many cities nationwide were built before the dangers of lead were well known, meaning many still have thousands of lead service lines which run from water mains into homes.

According to the report, cities with lead levels in drinking water that exceed the EPA’s standards include Gresham, Oregon; Tualatin, Oregon; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Trenton, New Jersey; Menasha, Wisconsin; Bordentown, New Jersey; Quincy, Massachusetts; Medford, Massachusetts; Winthrop, Massachusetts; and Harrison, Arkansas.

The report indicates that over the last two years, all ten of these cities have reported lead levels above the 15 parts per billion, which is the standard the EPA calls its “action level” and may cause risk of injury to consumers if it surpasses. However, the EPA has not stepped in to force action on the city officials as they did in Newark.

Earlier this month the EPA issued a letter to New Jersey government officials, detailing the findings from samples collected from the Newark residence’s tap water, which the agency indicates is not safe for consumption due to the risk of lead poisoning, even after the city supplied tens of thousands of free water filters to residents.

The EPA instructed Newark officials to advise their residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until further testing can be performed to assure filtration devices are working.

The EPA also said the City of Newark is responsible for providing such bottled water to its residents as soon as possible, and requested a compliance response by August 12. EPA officials said the agency was prepared to take appropriate action under Section 1431{a) of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure protection of public health, should the state and city not promptly undertake these recommended actions.

Lead poisoning exposure can pose serious health risks to children. A study published in 2013 indicated even low levels of lead in the blood can affect a child’s school performance, especially reading readiness for children entering kindergarten. Other effects include injury to the nervous system, brain damage, seizures, growth retardation, mental retardation, coma, and even death.

Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children. More than half a million children in the U.S, have lead blood levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the “level of concern” reference set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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