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Unsafe Lead in Tap Water Sparks a National Water Crisis

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is now headline news, with both media and government officials ruminating over how a modern American city could have allowed high levels of lead to contaminate its public water. Hidden in all the reports and news interviews is a false assumption: that Flint’s problems, while horrifying, are an isolated incident.

This isn’t the case. Lead contaminated water isn’t as rare in the USA as we like to think. In fact, we could be on the verge of a water quality epidemic, a disaster of which Flint isn’t even our first warning.

Multiple communities across the nation have discovered lead in their drinking water at one time or another. Sebring, Ohio was the latest, with high lead levels lead levels detected as early as October of 2015, although residents weren’t informed for almost five months. Durham and Greenville, North Carolina had lead problems in 2006. Columbia, South Carolina had similar issues in 2005, and 2015 saw lead problems in the water of Jackson, Mississippi.

The nation’s capital isn’t immune—in 2001 Washington, DC, altered how it disinfects drinking water. The result was a spike in lead levels in public water up to 20 times the maximum level set by the EPA. Residents weren’t informed, however, for three years.

At the root of the problem is a rapidly aging and deteriorating infrastructure, and the money (or lack thereof) required to fix it. Although the use of lead water pipes was banned 30 years ago, it’s estimated up to 10 million older lead pipes remain in use. Changes in disinfection processes, water chemistry, or even disturbing old pipes during maintenance can cause lead to leach into drinking water.

The cost of replacing these pipes is astronomically high: between $16.5 and $50 billion. Even so, this is a minor cost compared to the $383 billion that would be required to cover the cost of deferred maintenance it’s estimated is needed to make public water safe.

Most water pipes—lead or not—are only replaced when they break. According to Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, the average US city has a 300-year replacement cycle for its pipes. This may be far too optimistic: The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates most pipes reach the end of their useful life after only 95 years.

Erik D. Olsen, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health and environment program, makes the issue depressingly clear: “You think our roads and bridges aren’t being fixed? The stuff underground is just totally ignored.”

This is a matter of national concern: 8,000 children under the age of six were exposed to unsafe lead levels for over a year in Flint. Lowered intelligence, learning disorders, behavioral problems, and other neurological disorders are only some of the problems these children can expect to face in later life. imagine the same problems on a national level.

Even if the nation embarks on a full-scale effort to restore public water safety, such a gargantuan problem will take years to complete. And as Flint, Sebring, and DC prove, officials aren’t always prompt with their warnings when threats enter the water system—a depressing lack of responsibility that in many ways raises more concern than deteriorating infrastructure.

With this in mind, it’s up to individuals to safeguard their own health—and that of their families. Installation of a filtration system such as the Pelican Whole House Filter with UV reduces chlorine, and many other harmful substances while killing 99.9 percent of waterborne microorganisms, allowing you to drink, cook, and shower in safer, healthier water.

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