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Lead Pipe Cinch in CLE 
Paul Webb
A source I know to be reliable has told me that there is anxiety and distress in greater Cleveland about water pipes made of lead. Lead poisoning hazards rank high among the large number of environmental and infrastructure problems our friends in the CLE should be worried about, but lead pipes are way way down that list.

This rant will explain why that is true, but before you get calm and rational lead pipe anxiety abatement you have to eat your vegetables: slightly shrill kvetching about ongoing lead poisoning of children.

Children, along with pets and adults, are poisoned by ingestion of lead-contaminated dust. Lead-based paint and other leaded film coatings are the source of lead in this dust. Despite decades of expensive propaganda paid for by the lead and paint industries seeking to shift the blame to lead-contaminated air, water, soil and bad parenting among lower income people, it’s the dust from paint that does the overwhelming majority of the damage.

I and a number of experts with better educations, brains and temperaments than mine have encountered some basic types of resistance, all wrong, in many years of effort to deliver inexpensive common sense lead-poisoning prevention education. They include, but are not limited to:
  • if lead paint is such a big deal why don’t I already know about it? 
  • my generation grew up without all this fussing about lead and we turned out fine. [author’s note1: really?
  • poor kids really like to eat paint chips 
  • lead paint is bad and we must remove all the lead paint from all the houses in the United States. 
  • the only way to protect children is to perform thousands of expensive paint inspections and endless elaborate investigation rituals. 
  • it is not financially feasible to render every pre-1978 housing unit lead-safe. [author’s note2: see author’s note1 supra] 
  • if we change all the light bulbs in the world from tungsten filament to compact fluorescent then everything will be fine. 
  • it’s all the fault of the liberals (formerly “communist hippies”). 
Here are some basics of lead poisoning.
  • All lead is toxic to living things. 
  • IT”S THE DUST. Lead-bearing dust is often invisible because lead molecules are so small. 
  • Finger-stick tests are helpful indicators but blood tests with micrograms per deciliter results are the only reliable measure of blood lead levels. 
  • It is possible to get lead into a human from air, soil, water, utensils, dishes, food, makeup, toys, furniture and lots of other sources, but dust from paint is the main villain. 
  • Lead damages young children (under 6) much much worse than older children or adults. 
  • The damage from childhood lead poisoning is permanent, cannot be cured, fixed, corrected or condoned. 
  • Childhood lead poisoning can and must be prevented with diligent lead hazard mitigation short of full lead-paint abatement. Unsafe work practices make lead hazards worse. 
  • You do not need a college degree or a $10,000 XRF machine to identify potential lead hazards. Chemical spot tests for lead are cheap and accurate when properly used. 
Ok, now that we Democrats are alone in the room, let’s get back to the lead pipe crisis. There are millions of lead pipes used to supply potable water all over the country, but a greater concentration of them in older cities and buildings. Lead was used because it doesn’t deteriorate much, is easier to work than other metals, and there were no practical non-metal pipes available. There are also a great many buildings, including dwelling units, with copper water pipes connected with fittings using lead solder. That is no longer legal, but there’s a lot in place.

Assuming it wasn’t already there before the water got to the lead pipe, lead gets into the water only by prolonged static direct contact between the water and the lead pipe wall. In houses with lead pipes or solder, testing water from kitchen faucets finds more lead at the beginning of the day, after no water has moved through the pipes during overnight hours, than during a normal day’s usage of water. So if there are lead pipes or solder, you can reduce the lead level in the household water supply simply by running water down the drain for two minutes or so. In many cases, thirty seconds is enough, but it can take longer if there is a long lead plumbing run to the fixture. USEPA suggests that your water provider utility can recommend how long to run the water, but if you’re really worried you can buy water test kits online or at a hardware store and test it yourself. You can’t test anybody else’s water, just where you live. In fact, it’s probably a violation of some useless regulation for me to tell you that you’re allowed to test your own.

But even with lead water pipes in your building or out under the street in the city’s pipes, there is usually no need to run the water to be safe because the water never comes in direct contact with the lead at all. That is because a coating tends to build up on the pipe walls which insulates the water from the lead.   See lead in drinking water.

There it is. Yes lead poisoning can be a devastating tragedy for families, but tearing up all the lead pipes in the country won’t do much, if anything, to prevent it. Pumping water out of a toxic sewer with a century’s accumulated industrial waste in it, as in Flint, is not quite the same thing as the presence of lead pipes.

Worry about the dust.

Paul Webb, a lead professional from SE Ohio offers these insights into Ohio's Lead Crisis. Paul designed the famous lead detector T shirt and is a native Clevelander. RHINO reformatted the original article, provided some editing for clarity and links to connect to other sources. Original is attached at the bottom of this page.

Subpages (1): RHINO members speak out
Spencer Wells,
Sep 4, 2016, 6:54 AM