If you’ve read the news recently, there have been several reports about the high levels of lead found in Houston’s Fifth Ward, and other neighborhoods around the city. The cause for alarm has been so significant the Houston Chronicle recently suggested that the Fifth Ward could be “one of hundreds of Flints” – referring to the recent issues in Flint, MI, in which children were exposed to toxic levels of lead in the water. The city’s high levels of lead, which can cause severe health problems, including brain damage (especially in children), are pushing Houston’s Harris County to move faster on remediating the problem by removing old, lead-based piping in the city. The problem is that many of these efforts don’t move fast enough to keep everyone in Houston safe.
How Widespread Is the Lead Problem in Houston?
According to researcher, Garrett Sansom, Texas A&M School of Public Health Research Assistant Professor, the problem is more widespread than once thought. Sansom recently told Fox26 that: “Preliminary data does suggest we’re finding in about 20-30% of the homes a detectable lead level.” Indeed, in addition to the Fifth Ward, lead has been found at high levels in Houston’s East End and Manchester / Harrisburg area as well. One thing important to note, however, is that the presence of any lead in water can be damaging to health, in a variety of ways, including:
- Heart attacks
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Kidney problems
- Impulsivity and learning difficulties in children.
- Severe brain damage or death (in the worst cases)
Why Does the Houston Water Supply Contain So Much Lead?
Experts say that up until 1986 when the practice was stopped and banned federally, many Houston-based builders continued to install lead pipes leading into homes. And even after that point, when galvanized steel became more popular, lead solder was often used with brass fittings, creating additional problems. Lead also remains a general problem beyond the water supply as many older homes still have lead from paint, and other products used decades ago.
How Does Lead Leaching Occur?
Lead gets in the water in the following way: Chemicals in the water cause the inside wall of the pipe to corrode, releasing lead ions into the water. What some municipalities (such as Houston) do is add corrosion inhibitors to the water, which act as a coating for the pipe, blocking the lead ions from leaching into the water supply. But over time, experts think replacing the pipes may be the best option. The problem, of course, is that it takes a long time to do so. And the best prevention against removing lead immediately comes in the form of reverse osmosis filters, which Houston Water Solutions uses as part of its overall softening/filtration system.
What Can Be Done in Houston? Models from Other Cities
Houston is not the only city dealing with a lead problem. Others such as Chicago, IL, Gary, IN, Detroit, MI, and Cincinnati, OH, also face similar replacement issues. The lessons for Houston are many but cities often focus on two big areas: cost-sharing and simply getting started now. To read more about the summary of lessons from other cities, check out this WBEZ Chicago analysis.
What Can You Do Personally to Keep Yourself Safe?
The EPA recommends a few things. First and foremost, get your water tested. At Houston Water Solutions, we offer a free water-quality analysis. We’ll send a technician to your home and test your water for lead and other contaminants. If you do have lead in your water, we’ll recommend filtration and softening solutions that can remove it. Other things you can do:
- Run water if it has not been used for several hours (to wash away any water that the lead has already leached into).
- Be aware of any work that could disturb your lead service line (water main replacement or service line repair). Such work could cause more lead leaching to occur.
- Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, or baby formulas because hot water can dissolve lead more quickly.
- Remove your entire lead service line
- Purchase a water treatment system from us at Houston Water Solutions.
Lead contamination is a serious problem in Houston. It’s starting to be addressed by local officials, but unfortunately not fast enough where you don’t need to worry about it. Remember, any exposure to lead can be harmful to you. We at Houston Water Solutions encourage you to be proactive, especially when it comes to dealing with lead, whether that’s for you, your children, parents, or loved ones. We have water filtration systems that will remove lead from your water – a small price compared to the health risks you might face. Give us a call today and we’ll get you started with a free water quality analysis.