Getting the Lead Out

By: Aaron Baskerville
By: Aaron Baskerville

Lansing Board of Water and Light is set to formally begin replacing lead pipes with copper pipes in thousands of homes.

The utility says 14,000 letters will be sent out to the affected homes, notifying them if their pipes will be replaced. BWL says it water is clean, but is encouraging customers to let the tap water run for at least 30 seconds and avoid cooking and drinking hot tap water.

Officials say the job will take 10 years at a cost of about $30 million. They say high on the priority list are schools, day care centers, and homes with small children.

BWL says they have already replaced pipes in about a few thousand homes in the last 10 years, and says it speeding up the process now because they feel a sense of obligation.

Contact the Lansing Board of Water and Light for more information on public hearings it will be holding during the next three weeks.

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Getting the Lead Out

  • Lead was banned from house paint in 1978.

  • U.S. food canners quit using lead solder in 1991.

  • The 25-year phase-out of lead in gasoline reached its goal in 1995.

Lead Absorption

  • Adults absorb about 11 percent of lead reaching the digestive tract

  • Children may absorb 30 to 75 percent of lead reaching the digestive tract.

  • When lead is inhaled, up to 50 percent is absorbed, but less than one percent of lead is absorbed when it comes in contact with the skin.

  • The body stores lead mainly in bone, where it can accumulate for decades.

  • Calcium deficiency especially increases lead absorption, as does iron deficiency, which can also increase lead damage to blood cells.

  • A high-fat diet increases lead absorption, and so does an empty stomach.

Risks of Lead

  • Lead disrupts the functioning of almost every brain neurotransmitter.

  • While a child's chronic exposure to relatively low lead levels may result in learning or behavioral problems.

  • Higher levels of exposure in children can be associated with anemia and changes in kidney function, as well as significant changes in the nervous system that may include seizures, coma and death.

  • In adults, lead poisoning can contribute to high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs.

  • Severe lead poisoning in adults can cause subtle loss of recently acquired skills, listlessness, bizarre behavior, incoordination, vomiting, altered consciousness, seizures, coma and death

  • By the time symptoms appear, damage is often already irreversible.

Top Contaminators

  • Lead Paint:
    • America's No. 1 source of lead exposure in children is deteriorating lead paint in older housing.
    • Because young children frequently put their thumbs and fingers and objects they handle in their mouths, they are easily poisoned from chronic ingestion of lead paint chips and house dust or soil that may have lead particles in it.

  • Workplace Hazards:
    • Occupations that may expose workers to lead include painting, smelters, firearms instruction, automotive repair, brass or copper foundries, and bridge, tunnel and elevated highway construction.
    • Besides their own exposures, workers may bring lead dust home on clothes, hands or hair, exposing children in the household.

  • Drinking Water:
    • The main culprits of water contamination are corroded lead plumbing, lead solder on copper plumbing, and brass faucets.
    • Lead is highest in water left in pipes for a long time--for example, when the faucet isn't used overnight.

  • Ceramics:
    • Some ceramicware has lead in the glaze and may introduce small amounts of lead in the diet, which the body can tolerate, the major problem with ceramicware is the rare poorly made piece with very high levels of lead.
    • Antique ceramicware may leach high levels of lead. Consumers can use a lead test kit from a hardware store on such pieces and on other hand-painted ceramicware they may already own.

    Source: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fdalead.html (U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web Site)


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