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Flint, Michigan: The Tip of the Lead-Contaminated Iceberg


A recent investigation by USA Today Network revealed what we at Pelican have sadly predicted for some time: Flint, Michigan is only one of thousands of communities affected by excessive lead levels in drinking water. You can check this interactive map provided by USA Today

USA outline with faucetUsing data from the last four years, the USA Today investigative team identified almost 2,000 water systems across all fifty states where lead levels were excess of 15 parts per billion (ppb), the maximum amount allowed by the EPA. All told, these water systems provide water to over six million people.

The facts are, quite frankly, alarming. Out of the 2,000 systems:

  • 180 (at least) failed to properly notify consumers of the threat.
  • 350 provide drinking water to schools or daycares.
  • 600 systems had lead levels in excess of 40 ppb, which the EPA considers an immediate threat to young children and pregnant women.

Perhaps the worst case involved an elementary school in Ithaca, New York, where lead levels registered at 5,000 ppb. That’s not just contaminated water—that’s toxic waste, and we mean that literally. 5,000 ppb exceeds the EPA threshold for toxic waste.

Lead can enter drinking water at any point after water leaves a treatment plant. Lead plumbing was once standard for home plumbing, and is often still present in older buildings. Most of the nation’s water delivery infrastructure was laid when lead pipes were the industry standard.

While mineral buildup inside these pipes provides some protection from lead, any disturbance to pipes can cause lead to leach into the water supply. The pipes themselves are breaking down with age, and as Flint demonstrates, switching to different water sources or changes to water treatment can trigger lead leaching.

Part of the problem is the multifaceted, almost chaotic, mosaic of water suppliers in the United States. Over 155,000 water systems deliver water across the nation. Some supply water to entire cities. Others supply much smaller areas, including individual buildings or schools. With so many systems in operation, oversight is almost impossible, and equally difficult to enforce.

Existing testing is also insufficient. A small water supplier might only need to sample five or ten taps a year. The largest city-wide systems only test 50 to 100 taps a year. With such testing, coupled with the type of administrative negligence we’ve seen in Flint, it’s quite likely the true tally of lead-contaminated water suppliers is much higher than 2,000 cases.

Concerned if your water supply made the list? You can check this interactive map provided by USA Today. If you’re supplier is on the list, or if you’re just concerned about the dangers posed by the nation’s rapidly eroding water supply infrastructure, call one of Pelican Water’s water specialists at 877-842-6288. We offer NSF certified countertop and reverse osmosis water filter systems that are effective in reducing lead in water by 98%.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter