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Study makes concerning find after analyzing nearly 40,000 home water tests: 'Residents have reason to be concerned'

"This should be a call to get your water tested."

"This should be a call to get your water tested."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study has revealed that around two-thirds of Chicago children under the age of six are exposed to toxic lead through their drinking water.

What happened?

Researchers analyzed more than 38,000 home water tests in Chicago with the help of artificial intelligence. They also looked at neighborhood demographics, state blood samples, and other factors. They estimated that around 129,000 children six and under, or nearly 70%, were exposed to lead through their home's drinking water because of lead pipes. 

The analysis also found that Black and Latino residents were more likely to have lead-contaminated water, as the Guardian explained. 

"I think residents have reason to be concerned," said the study's co-author Benjamin Huynh, per the Guardian. "I think this should be a call to get your water tested for lead, see what the results are, then make your decisions accordingly."

Why is the research concerning?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there is no known safe level of lead in drinking water because it can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead can also accumulate in the body over time. 

According to the agency, even low levels in the blood of children can lead to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia. It's also a concern for pregnant women and can lead to premature birth and reduced growth of the fetus.

Lead is not the only dangerous substance lurking in Americans' drinking water. A recent study by the United States Geological Survey found many per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or "forever chemicals," in nearly half of the nation's drinking water. 

The chemicals have been linked to some cancers, developmental delays in children, and reproductive complications. However, scientists are making promising strides to break down some PFAS compounds with UV light.

What's being done about contaminated drinking water?

The EPA requires cities to notify the public when "at least 10% of a small sample of homes tested are above" 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water, and Chicago is in compliance with this rule, according to the Guardian

The agency is also requiring cities across the United States to remove all lead pipes in the next decade, although it is giving Chicago 40 years to complete the task because of the large number of unreplaced pipes in the city.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for state and local governments to limit lead in school drinking fountains to no more than one part per billion.

If you are worried about lead in your home's water, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. According to the EPA, if you get your water from a community source, you can ask your water utility for a copy of its Consumer Confidence Report. 

You can also have your home water tested for lead. The agency advises actions like flushing your pipes by running the tap, taking a shower, or doing laundry before getting drinking water. It also advises checking your filter, if you use one, to make sure it's installed correctly and it's certified for lead removal. Another tip is to use cold water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula.

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