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How Lead in Drinking Water Affects the Brain

How Lead in Drinking Water Affects the Brain

It’s no secret that lead has a bad reputation. The negative impact of this heavy metal on the human body was documented as early as 2000 BC.1 Lead has been mined for many millennia and shows up in common products such as gasoline and paint.2 Unfortunately, this widespread use has adversely impacted the human body, especially the developing nervous system. Lead’s exposure to humans is dangerous at all ages. However, it is particularly problematic for children and infants. 

 

Studies have shown that increased blood lead levels reduce IQ, academic achievement, and attention span in children.3 Lead accumulates more rapidly in children because they consume more water on a kilogram-to-kilogram basis than do adults. Additionally, their bodies absorb 4-5 times the amount of consumed lead as adults from a particular source.4

 

Pregnant women are also not immune to lead’s pernicious effects. Those exposed to high lead levels may have babies with brain or nervous system damage.5 

 

The situation in Flint, Michigan garnered global attention for its 2014 water crisis. While this may seem like an isolated incident, that’s far from the case. The issue occurs more than the public is made aware. Unsafe lead levels were found in tap water in various other cities—Columbia, South Carolina in 2005, as well as Greenville, North Carolina in 2006. Furthermore, in July 2015, harmful levels were found in Jackson, Mississippi. 

 

The detriments of long-term lead exposure on Flint’s 30,000 schoolchildren are already evident. From the year the situation arose to 2019, the number of students qualifying for special education services nearly doubled. ADHD, dyslexia, and mild intellectual impairment are some of the frequently occurring issues in assessed students.6

 

Sources vary on the safety of water systems throughout the country. But the fact of the matter is that millions of people are still getting water via lead pipes. A study by the American Water Works Association found unacceptable lead levels in 70.5 percent of water systems.7 This demonstrates the widespread threat that lead still poses. Action is being taken to gather quantitative information on bodily lead accumulation, especially amongst children. The CDC’s lead poisoning initiative provides state-by-state data on blood lead levels in children under 6.8  

 

According to the World Health Organization, there is no level of lead exposure that does not bear consequences. Data show that in 2017, 1.06 million deaths occurred, and 24.4 million healthy years of life were lost, due to the chronic health impacts of lead.9 Thus, it is imperative to take action in minimizing exposure. Lead does not visibly show up in water, so there’s no way to know for certain whether or not it is being consumed. As with any public health risk, prevention is key.  

 

Drinking filtered water will protect against lead ingestion. It’s important to rely on a water filter that is designed and tested to remove lead. The Aquagear filter has been independently tested by an ISO 17025 accredited lab to remove over 99% of lead from drinking water.

 

References:

  1. Karin Koller, Terry Brown, Anne Spurgeon, Len Levy. Recent Developments in Low-Level Lead Exposure and Intellectual Impairment in Children. Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Jun; 112(9): 987-994. 
  2. Canfield, R.L., Jusko, T.A., & Kordas, K. Environmental lead exposure and children’s cognitive function. Riv Ital Pediatr. 2005 Dec; 31(6), 293-300. 
  3. Ying Zhou & Scott D. Grosse. Valuing the Benefits of Reducing Childhood Lead Exposure—Human Capital, Parental Preferences, or Both? Prepared for the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis “Risk Assessment, Economic Evaluation, and Decisions” workshop, September 26‐27, 2019.
  4. Lead poisoning and health. Retrieved from who.int (August 23, 2019) 
  5. Learn About Lead. Retrieved from EPA.org (April 12, 2021)
  6. Erica L. Green. Flint’s Children Suffer in Class After Years of Drinking the Lead-Poisoned Water. Retrieved from nytimes.com (November 6, 2019)
  7. Michael Wines and John Schwartz. Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to Flint. Retrieved from nyimes.com (February 8, 2016)
  8. Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention: CDC’s Childhood Lead State Surveillance Data. Retrieved from CDC.gov (July 30, 2019)
  9. Lead poisoning and health. Retrieved from who.int (August 23, 2019) 

 

Links to Sources: 

  1. PMC4675165
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1247191/
  3. https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1273/2019/09/Zhou-Grosse-2019.pdf
  4. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health
  5. Learn-about-lead
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/regulatory-gaps-leave-unsafe-lead-levels-in-water-nationwide.html
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/us/politics/flint-michigan-schools.html
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/data/state.htm
  9. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health