“When it comes to addressing lead in our schools drinking water, the report card is in, and Pennsylvania gets an F.”

— Stephen Riccardi, PennEnvironment


“What we should do today is protect our most vulnerable citizens, and those are our kids.”

— Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deborah Gross


A press conference in front of the doors leading to Pittsburgh City Council Chambers on Tuesday brought together members of the media, representatives from the Mayor’s office, City Council, and the Pennsylvania State Senate to address a glaring public safety hazard: lead in drinking water. Recognizing that waiting for the city to replace it’s aging water infrastructure will take many years (7% of lead service lines must be replaced every year), Councilwoman Deborah Gross has a simple and relatively inexpensive plan to protect the city’s children from lead-contaminated water: Provide up to 25,000 households with countertop water pitchers certified to filter out lead. State Senator Wayne Fontana was there to announce he would introduce a bill to require all schools to test for lead in drinking water every year and publish the results.

I was pleased to be given the opportunity to speak to the assembled press and lawmakers yesterday regarding the adverse health effects that arise when young children are exposed to lead. While I thought my remarks were pretty good, they received absolutely no attention from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, KDKA News, WTAE News, or WESA Public Radio News. That’s right — no print, no video, no voice! Fortunately for readers of The PediaBlog, I saved the Word document for your consideration:

“Lead exposure continues to be a serious and stubborn public health risk confronting kids, especially in Southwestern Pennsylvania where a majority of the housing inventory is old. Exterior siding and interior walls, ceilings, and windowsills are likely to contain lead from paints used in homes before 1978. And as we unfortunately discovered in Flint, Michigan last year, water systems in our aging cities may provide a source of lead contamination in drinking water.

Because children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food per unit body weight than adults, and because they are more likely to play in contaminated soil and handle food without cleaning their hands, they are at higher risk of ingesting lead. What we know from decades of scientific studies, including landmark research done at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, is that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

In infants and children, lead is attracted to rapidly growing organs, especially the brain. It is there in the brain that lead, a natural heavy metal, does its most unnatural damage.

The injuries caused by very small amounts of lead in a developing child’s brain may be profound, or it may be subtle, but it is always permanent. We know that brain damage from lead causes lower IQ’s and other cognitive delays, learning disabilities, hearing impairments, difficulties with attention and concentration,  decreased academic achievement, and anti-social and other behavioral problems. Other health effects from lead poisoning result in chronic illness and often painful disabilities. All the effects of lead exposure have life-long consequences for children when they become adults, and they have burdensome consequences for the rest of society as well. Lead poisoning in children affects all of us.

Children can’t speak up and say, “Hey, I need this immunization policy” or “I need that car seat law to protect me.” They can’t tell you to prevent lead poisoning any more than they can protest the degradation of the environment or express the necessity to act now on climate change. We have to be their voices. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, and all adults — speak up: We have to be their voices.”


I applaud Councilwoman Gross, Sen. Fontana, and Mayor Peduto in absorbing the environmental science data reported to them by PennEnvironment and working together to find solutions to lead exposure and lead poisoning in Pennsylvania’s children.