“Most existing lead standards fail to protect children. They provide only an illusion of safety…

“Instead we need to expand the funding and technical guidance for local and state governments to remove lead hazards from children’s homes, and we need federal standards that will truly protect children.”

— Jennifer Lowry, MD — AAP Council on Environmental Health regarding the AAP’s new policy statement Prevention of Childhood Lead Toxicity. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 6/21/16)


A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics revealed that Pennsylvania has the second highest proportion of children with elevated blood lead levels (Minnesota was first). More than 5 million pediatric blood samples sent for lead testing were analyzed nationally and Jill Daly says Pittsburgh didn’t do so good:

… two regions of Pittsburgh — with ZIPs that begin with 151 and 152 — ranked as two of the worst 20 regions for both high levels of lead in the blood (defined as between 5 and 10 micrograms) and very high levels of lead (more than 10 micrograms).

In the 151 region, 9.5 percent tested positive for high levels of lead; 2.7 percent tested for very high levels (ranking 20th and 14th, respectively, across the country). In the 152 region (which includes virtually all of Pittsburgh), 10.7 percent of the tests were found to be at a high level, and 2.5 percent tested positive for very high (14th and 20th, respectively).


The most important source of lead in the environment is household lead-based paint. It’s estimated that approximately 35% of housing units in the U.S. contain lead-based paint, with houses built before 1960 having higher concentrations of lead in interior and exterior paints compared to those built afterwards. The main pathways by which children are exposed to lead in and around the home is breathing and ingesting house dust contaminated from lead-basedinterior paints and from contaminated soil (from lead-based exterior paints) outside. As parents know, infants, toddlers, and young children like to put objects in their mouths, including toys, dirty hands, and food picked up by said hands. And then there is what occurred in Flint, Michigan — contamination of drinking water:

Water is an important but often overlooked source of exposure for children, especially for infants who are formula fed. Water typically contributes to approximately 20% of a child’s blood lead concentrations if the water lead concentration exceeds 5 ppb. The contribution of lead from water can be much higher for some children, especially for infants who ingest large quantities of tap water. Children who reside in communities with lead service lines and inadequate anticorrosion control are also at increased risk for elevated blood lead concentrations.


After witnessing the slow-motion lead poisoning disaster unfold in Flint, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority took a major step this month in providing reassurance that their customers’ tap water is safe to drink. Recent data, Lexi Belculfine says, shows that lead levels in Pittsburgh’s water have been rising in recent years, perilously close to the allowed federal limit of 15 parts per billion in some places. The source of lead in the water is occurring in old service pipes connecting houses with the water main line:

In its 2015 annual water quality report, the authority noted that lead levels reached 14.8 parts per billion. That’s risen from 2 parts per billion in 1999 to 14.7 parts per billion in 2013, as shown by mandatory testing every three years, which the authority is currently undergoing.

Water systems must monitor drinking water at customers’ taps, and when lead appears in excess of 15 parts per billion in more than 10 percent of customer samples, a system must work to control corrosion and inform the public, per the federal Lead and Copper Rule. Those whose levels are above 15 parts per billion are counseled in mediation plans, such as changing a lead service line, using filters and flushing the lines, Mr. Donahoe said…

Among the 393 voluntary tests returned to customers, lead was not found in 225; 72 fell between 1 and 5 parts per billion; 52 were between 5.1 to 9.9 parts per billion; 24 barely missed the action level at 10 to 14.9 parts per billion; and 20 homes were above 15 parts per billion, according to the PWSA.


PWSA is encouraging customers to check their website (pgh2o.com) or call 412-782-7552 or 412-782-7554 (7:30 am – 4 pm) to receive a free lead testing kit.


(Back pat: Dr. Sarah Kohl, M.D., Chartiers/McMurray)


(Google Images)