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Lead in Drinking Water

April 17, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Ramon Martinez III and Dr. Tomy Granzier-Nakajima

Executive Summary 

The use of lead in plumbing was not federally prohibited in the U.S. until 1986. As a result, many existing household water service lines still contain lead. Lead service lines are more commonly found in older cities and houses built before 1986. Lead can leak from pipes via corrosion into the water supply. While most contaminants are detected and treated at a water treatment facility, this does not protect against contamination that enters the water supply while it travels to its final destination. Permanent solutions to reduce lead exposure include replacing lead service lines and can cost from $1,200 to $12,300 for the entire line according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A less permanent solution is to treat water to be less corrosive. The EPA has also shown that, when properly installed and used, filters designed for lead removal are effective at removing lead. In the 2022 Missouri Legislative Session, three bills have been introduced (HB 2532, HB 2610, SB 1075) that aim to lower the levels of lead in school drinking water sources to one part per billion.  

Highlights 

  • Nearly every organ of the body can be adversely affected by lead toxicity.
    • Long-term exposure to lead can result in decreased cognitive performance, and in children it can cause behavioral problems, learning deficits, lower IQs, and overall severe brain damage.
  • The EPA estimates that 20% of a person’s lead exposure comes from drinking water.
  • Between 792,000 to 1,188,000 people in Missouri may be affected by lead service lines.
  • Children are especially vulnerable to lead intake as their organ tissues are generally softer and in the developing stage; one study found over 80% of Missouri children tested had detectable levels of lead.
  • Black children are three-times more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood than White children; children in poverty are twice as likely to have elevated blood lead levels. 

Limitations 

  • Detailed maps of the locations of lead service lines are not available.
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