Lead: A Threat to Children and Adults Alike

Bridget Seelinger, DUSNA Publicity Chair

The disaster in Flint, Michigan has raised awareness for rising levels of lead in drinking water. Some reports say that our very own Allegheny River may have near-toxic levels of lead in the water, which raises questions as to how much this can affect one’s health.

What makes the situation in Flint so perilous is the fact that the lead that is in the water is originating from the pipes. In 2014, the town’s water source was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Pipes were used that were not properly treated against corrosion, so throughout the years, the pipes have worn down and leaked literal poison into the water. There are very legitimate fears that the high levels of lead in the children of Flint’s bloodstreams, may lead to permanent neurological damage. The state of Michigan, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the federal government are seeking to waterprosecute the officials responsible for the decisions that led to the water crisis.

Lead works as a poison in the body, mimicking the actions of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc. As a result, lead can cause severe mental alterations as the brain has decreased oxygenation and decreased muscle function, since calcium is vital for healthy muscle contractions. Lead is odorless, tasteless, colorless, and virtually undetectable until symptoms start to occur. The only way that lead can affect you is if it is ingested, which is why it is important to check one’s home for lead paint, especially if there are children in the home.1

After reports indicated high levels of lead in Pittsburgh water sources, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) began testing our own pipes for corrosion and came up with a safeguard against the poisoning of our water supply, the decision to switch from caustic soda to soda ash, a chemical that will create a film over the pipes to prevent corrosion.

In a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette2, John Jeffries, supervisor of the county health department’s Public Drinking Water & Waste Management Program, said, “I think this is a good opportunity for people to understand the water systems of Allegheny County have been using the same sources for a very long time, and they are comfortable treating those to meet rules and regulations… For what it’s worth, I drink the tap water.”

Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include developmental delays, irritability, hearing loss, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and weight loss. In adults, symptoms include high blood pressure, muscle pain, joint pain, decline in mental functioning, miscarriages, and constipation. If you present with the symptoms above, it is important to get help right away.  Treatment for lead poisoning is Chelation Therapy, a process of ingesting a chemical and excreting the lead through the urine. In severe cases, EDTA therapy is used, where an even harsher chemical is used to excrete the lead.3

It is important for people to understand the true danger of lead, especially lead in the drinking water, and be vigilant for signs and symptoms of possible toxicity. Hopefully, as the investigation in Flint continues, proper actions may be taken to resolve this very critical issue.



1, Delaware Department of Public Health: http://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/leadpoisonfaq.pdf

2, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2016/01/22/Pittsburgh-water-sewer-authority-using-new-lead-fighting-chemical/stories/201601220121

3, Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/basics/definition/con-20035487

Photos from NBC and Wikipedia



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