Can this happen to us? I did some research on Flint, MI!

First and foremost, I am a parent.  My children are my life.  After reading numerous articles on the water debacle in Flint, I just wondered if it could happen to us here in the Northeast corridor.   So, I did some research!


In Flint, so many kids are now poisoned with lead.  Lead poisoning is irreversible. Lead poisoning usually occurs over a period of months or years.  The poisoning can cause severe mental and physical impairment.  Young children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.  Children get lead poisoning in their bodies by putting lead containing objects in their mouths.  We as parents, watched very carefully to get rid of anything in our houses that contained lead – Lead paint, toys with lead, etcUgh…never thinking about our WATER SUPPLY.  How can this even happen in this day and age?

As pointed out by the AWW report, as a nation, we need to bring the conversation about water infrastructure above ground.  AND NOW is the time to do this, while it is fresh on our minds.    Deferring needed investments today will only result in greater expenses tomorrow and pass on a greater burden to our children and grandchildren.  Now is the time to confront America’s water infrastructure challenge.


Lead pipes can be found in much of the U.S., because at the time, lead’s impermeable yet malleable metal was considered necessary.  Surveys show they are concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. Nobody really knows how extensive they are today: A 1990 study estimated that 3.3 million utility service lines contain lead—plus twice as many connecting pipes, and countless amounts of lead solder. In addition, many homes have plumbing that contains the hazardous metal. According to Fortune article- “Flint’s Water Crisis Should Raise Alarms for America’s Aging Cities by Rob Curran Jan. 25, 2016”, lead pipes are prevalent in cities that were developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, meaning all the major metropolitan areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and California.  By the latter half of the 20th century, lead was rarely used in city pipes. The American Water Association, a group representing utilities nationwide, recently gave the Associated Press an estimate that there are 6.5 million lead pipes in use in the U.S.  In Philadelphia alone, there could be 50,000 lead service lines, according to Gary Burlingame, director of the Philadelphia Water Department’s bureau of laboratory services.


So, the ultimate answer is to rip out all the lead service lines and replace them with lead-free alternatives. That was a recommendation of a federal panel’s report in December.  By the way, today water pipes are frequently made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC/uPVC), ductile iron, steel, cast iron, polypropylene, or polyethylene, copper.  Hopefully they are recording these details.


The cost of replacing the infrastructure will be phenomenal– that is a given.  (And who will foot the bill?  That is another discussion in itself!)  But before you can replace it, you have to know where the problem pipes are!  Amazingly, there is a lack of documentation on the pipes… the locations, the materials, etc.  The only definite way to check if a pipe is lead (or not) is to scrape the pipes’ interior as it comes into the house.  This is unbelievable to me… with the technology out there, we need to start recording everything now, so that the future state of our infrastructure will be known!  Most cities are taking a piecemeal approach to the problem and just fixing sections of lead pipe only when they fail.  As of now, in Philly, there are no plans to fix the entire issue.


So, can it happen to us? Unfortunately, as we have seen with Flint, Michigan (which is so close to the freshest bodies of water in the world) – YES, it CAN happen to us.Ugh…


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Buried No Longer:  Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge


Flint’s Water Crisis Should Raise Alarms for America’s Aging Cities by Rob Curran Jan. 25, 2016


Karen Musselman

BlueOceanSystems Consultant

BOU Red Box

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