On some level we have always known that lead can be dangerous for us & especially for our children, but the Flint crisis has brought this issue back to the forefront of our minds. What really happened in Flint, & how much do we need to worry about similar issues occurring?
What Happened in Flint?
A federal state of emergency was declared in Flint in January, 2016 because the residents there had been exposed to severe levels of lead contamination for an extended period of time. This occurred after the switch to the Flint River as the drinking water source because of city budget deficits. The river water was highly corrosive, but it became more so when additional chlorine was added to combat E. coli that was present in the water. Especially since the required corrosion-protecting agent was not also added. The consequences of these actions is that the lead-lined pipes were permanently damaged & lead leaked into tap water for an extended period of time - even after switching Flint back to its original water supply.
The family nurse practitioner program offered through Nursing@USC created the following infographic to outline the full timeline of events:
How Common is Lead Exposure?
Unfortunately, Flint is not an isolated incident, & it is important to share this type of information to keep it from occurring. USA Today uncovered in a recent investigation that there have been almost 2,000 contaminated water systems in the United States of the past four years. This means that we need to be aware of these concerns in our own communities & neighboring communities.
The most common sources of lead exposure according to this post are as follows:
House paint - Houses that were built before 1977 are more likely to have lead paint. This can produce dust or paint chips that can be inhaled or consume by its occupants.
Soil - Car exhaust & gasoline can seep into soil, especially soil that is near busy roads. Then that soil can be tracked into homes & other community areas.
Tap water - Lead can enter the water supply through corroded water pipes, which means that it could then be found in drinking water & bathing water.
Other sources - There is also a risk of lead exposure from other sources such as specialty paints, ammunition, and products from other countries that still use lead paint.
There are a variety of solutions to these concerns, & they will need to be addressed on both small & large scales. We have a responsibility to help others when these types of crises happen, but we also need to strive for change on a larger scale. Water mains & filtration methods should be maintained & updated appropriately instead of waiting for something awful to happen & then take reactionary methods. The Social Determinants of America’s Lead Crisis is a great article that provides further information about this complex issue & the many factors at play.