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New study estimates disturbing percentage of young children exposed to lead in major US city: 'The extent ... is disheartening'

There is no known safe level of lead in the body.

There is no known safe level of lead in the body.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study estimates that over two-thirds of young children in Chicago are exposed to lead in their drinking water.

This shocking statistic highlights a dire public health concern that disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities, according to the Washington Post.

What's happening?

Researchers from Johns Hopkins and Stanford used artificial intelligence to analyze over 38,000 tap water tests in Chicago from 2016 to 2023. They estimated that 68% of children under six years old are exposed to lead-contaminated water.

Predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods were found to be less likely to have their water tested, yet more likely to face contamination.

As Dr. Benjamin Huynh, the study's lead author, said in a press release, "The extent of lead contamination of tap water in Chicago is disheartening — it's not something we should be seeing in 2024."

Why is contaminated water concerning?

Lead exposure, even at low levels, can cause learning difficulties and behavioral issues in children, according to the World Health Organization. These effects are believed to be irreversible.

There is no known safe level of lead in the body. Severe exposure can lead to brain damage, disabilities, and even death. This environmental injustice has the greatest impact on communities already facing social and economic difficulties.

What's being done about contaminated water?

In a major step forward, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed requiring all U.S. water utilities to replace their lead pipes within 10 years. President Biden has also pledged to remove every lead pipe in the country. Some $15 billion from the 2021 infrastructure bill is going towards this effort.

The city of Chicago offers several programs to replace lead pipes, including free replacement for low-income homeowners and some licensed daycares. By continuing to invest in safer infrastructure, we can build healthier communities together.

What can I do about contaminated water?

While large-scale solutions unfold, you can take these simple steps today to protect yourself and your family:

• Use a water filter certified to remove lead;
• Run your tap on cold for a few minutes before use, especially after several hours of non-use;
• Clean your faucet aerators regularly;
• Have your water tested if you suspect contamination.

Remember, ensuring safe drinking water for all isn't just an infrastructure issue — it's about building an equitable future where every child thrives. Let's raise our voices and work together to realize that vision.

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