How The Lead Did We Get Here?

Posted on October 29, 2020 by

Protecting our children and family from lead based products go back as far as we can remember. In 1978, the use of lead based paint was banned inside buildings. During those times, great harm was discovered when the paint began to crack and chip, due to the bumping and rubbing against walls and window sills. Breaking down into dust and contaminating the air with microscopic particles unseen to the eye and inhaled, thus elevating blood lead levels and risk of lead poisoning. Air quality within the family’s home once compromised has been corrected and readjusted for a safer and healthier home by using water-based paint. Be that as it may, lead continues to persist as an everyday challenge for people within their home, if it is not the air being compromised, it’s their drinking water.

Lead service lines (LSL) have been known to increase the lead content within our drinking water for centuries. In 1986, new LSL’s were banned to be installed though existing lines were permitted to stay. Instead of removing them completely alternative strategies were implemented such as lining the pipes with a corrosion control solution to reduce the amount of lead leaching into the water, partial lead line replacement, and a federal lead regulation disallowing lead levels in water to surpass 15 parts per billion (ppb). 

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) pronounced the partial lead line replacement could backfire and substantially increase the content of lead in water. Similar to lead paint, if the LSL is disturb it would release higher concentrations of lead than if the pipe remained static. Making full lead line replacement superior.

To be clear there is no safe level of lead in your water, and full lead line replacement is the best option to eliminate lead from our water. However, the greater the concentration of lead the greater risk of health impairments. According to the CDC, exposure to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, kidney and brain damage. Very high lead exposure can cause death. Lead can cross the placental barrier, which means pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child. Lead can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioural disorders that include but are not limited to increased aggression which may lead to more violence, and a decreased IQ level. 

Equitable opportunities sit at the heart of Freshwater Future’s core values. Lead is a serious issue and all communities should be given the proper care and resources to protect themselves and their family. That is why Freshwater Future has created a slew of content regarding lead to serve as an additional resource hub for community members looking for more information on how to protect their families and their drinking water from lead exposure.


Author: Brandon Tyus, Freshwater Future Community Programming & Policy Associate


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.