Lead

Introduction To SimpleWater Lead Series

Lead in Water

If you’ve been tuned into national news at all, you heard about it: Lead.

And it isn’t just the publicized disaster in Flint, Michigan, either. The lead crisis extends far beyond the confines of that city, with recent water rests at homes and public schools across the country dredging up the reality that there are few among us currently enjoying sanctuary from this public health threat.

In fact, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data obtained by CNBC reveals that only nine U.S. states report lead levels in compliance with  federal drinking water standards. Those states that are suffering from lead violations in drinking water put their citizens—particularly children—at risk for fertility impairment, vomiting, anemia, hearing loss, kidney disease, and developmental delays, among other ailments.

With the public discourse so focused on the lead threat—even the 2016 United States presidential race turned its attention to the health crisis—we wanted to create a one-stop special lead series for you to learn about what we know so far. We also mapped home age and water corrosiveness as indicators of risk so that you can check out your neighborhood and assess whether or not lead or heavy metals might be a risk in your water–see the Simple Water Lead Map.

Get up to date on the lead public health crisis that swept the country in 2016-17 with the following articles:

Flint, Michigan & Corrosive River Water: Flint remains a city-wide public health crisis that has yet to be remedied. Inside, we discuss the grave mistakes made in Michigan that we all stand to gain so much in learning from.

Erin Brockovich as Spokesperson: We examine how Erin Brockovich’s involvement in the largest direct-action lawsuit in history prepped her to intervene on behalf of Flint, and how her involvement helped motivate President Obama to mobilize the National Guard and declare a state of emergency in Michigan.

Lead in U.S. Cities: Which cities are America’s most egregious water quality violators? We break down the story on municipalities encountering difficulties meeting federal public health guidelines for lead levels in drinking water.

Lead in U.S. Public School Water: Lead in drinking water isn’t just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Learn how America’s public schools are at risk, and peruse a roundup of school districts recently affected.

Young Children and Lead Water Contamination: The Harmful Consequences: It’s an unfortunate fact that the youngest in our society are the most susceptible to environmental hazards, including lead. We discuss why lead in drinking water is so perilous to our children, and the specific adverse health effects they may encounter as a result of exposure.

Can You Trust Store-bought Lead Water Testing Kits? Not all lead water testing kits are created equal, as reporter Alison Young for USA TODAY quickly discovered. Many testing kits are backed by suspect “certifications,” and either rely on analysis from labs with questionable credentials or include testing procedures that often give rise to user error.

As we continue to follow lead in water around the nation, we’ll dutifully keep you updated. We've done our homework bringing together data on home age and corrosive water to map out areas across the nation that might be at risk for lead. Check out the Simple Water Lead Map here. Check back with us often to stay current  on the latest news and developments. 

And of course, if you’re ready to take action now to learn what’s in your water, check out Tap Score. Tap Score makes it simple for you to screen your home’s drinking water for more than 100 known contaminants, including lead. We’ll tell you what’s in your water and what you can do about it. Learn more about our testing packages now.


SimpleWater: We Test, Therefore We Know.

A note from the caring folks at SimpleWater — We are a water testing, analysis and health data company intent on providing the best water testing, analysis and reporting service ever created. 

We serve homes, families and businesses asking: “what’s in my water, what does it mean, and how do I ensure the safety of what I’m drinking?”

SimpleWater’s national team of certified laboratory scientists, engineers, health experts and designers provide each customer with a personalized Tap Score Water Quality Report. SimpleWater’s Tap Score is the Nation’s First Smart Water Testing Service for affordable and informative contaminant screening and personalized treatment recommendations.

Call Anytime :: 888 34 MY WATER (+1-888-346-9928)

 

Find Out What’s In Your Water at MyTapScore.Com

Can You Trust Store-Bought Lead Water Testing Kits?

SimpleWater Can You Trust Testing Kits?

In 2016, Alison Young of USA TODAY decided to investigate whether her 136-year-old home suffered from lead water contamination.

Homes serviced with lead pipes, fixtures, or solder are at risk of lead contamination, regardless of the quality of the water before it reaches your home. Sagely noting that “even if your water company is in compliance with federal lead contamination regulations, it doesn’t mean the water in your home is safe,” Young cited her desire to learn more about the potential threats facing her own home’s water supply.

Unfortunately, Young was quickly put off by the process of working with her local utility. Tired of receiving vague answers and delays from her water company, Virginia American Water, Young decided to take matters into her own hands with a home water testing kit.

The Pro-Lab Water Testing Kit Controversy

Young initially turned to Pro-Lab’s lead testing kit, which she discovered while browsing her local Home Depot.

The Pro-Lab Lead in Water Test Kit cost Young $9.99 at retail. This does not include a $30.00 lab fee that is charged once the user sends their home’s water vials off for testing.

Promising an “EPA approved laboratory method,” the water test kit’s packaging reads “IAC2 Certified,” although the fine print discloses that this acronym stands for the “International Associations of Certified Indoor Air Consultants.”

Immediately concerned over the nature of this certification and how it might apply to water tests, Young attempted over the course of two days to get in touch with Pro-Lab representatives. Eventually, Pro-Lab Chief Executive James McDonell contacted Young, and admitted that the International Associations of Certified Indoor Air Consultants “doesn’t have expertise in water testing”, and instead works with home inspectors. (Although per their website, lead issues do fall under their general purview.) McDonell asserted that they endorse all of Pro-Lab’s test kits.

Through spokesmen Stephen Holmes and Kylie Mason, both Home Depot and the Florida Attorney General’s Office, respectively, have informed Young they are investigating the claims put forth by Pro-Lab and their Lead In Water Test Kit regarding the kit’s efficacy and certifications.

Pro-Lab: forced to outsource testing

In the interim, Young did some digging, and found records revealing that Pro-Lab dished out $20,000 to the Florida Attorney General in 2008 for misrepresenting their Lead Surface Test Kit as a trusted source for EPA, when no such evidence existed. Additionally, Young claims these records show that Pro-Lab is “no longer certified” as a drinking water lab.

Pro-Lab’s water testing is now outsourced to Florida Spectrum, which is currently certified. They tout being the first South Florida lab to be certified by the Florida Department of Health.

While Pro-Lab is no longer certified to conduct their own testing as a drinking water lab, their website still claims a number of health-related certifications, inspections, licenses, recognitions, accreditations, affiliations, endorsements, and proficiency tests from various bodies, including the The Lead and Environmental Hazards Association (LEHA) and the National Lead Abatement and Assessment Council (NLAAC). However, Pro-Lab does not divulge what agency or association provides which certification, endorsement, et cetera. No specifics are provided.

A Trial with Two Other At-Home Lead Testing Kits

Inspired by Young’s findings, we decided to conduct a bit of our own research on home lead testing kits. The following are two examples:

H20 OK Plus Test Kit

Cost: This is another water testing kit that Young herself tested. It’s available at a number of prominent retailers, including Home Depot ($28.98 plus tax) and Lowe’s ($24.98 plus tax).

Testing Attributes: H20 OK Plus Test Kit contains 23 drinking-water-quality tests. To perform the test at home you’re instructed to put two droppers worth of water from your tap into the test vial.  Then, you drop the lead test strip alongside the pesticide test strip into the water vial.  Next, you wait 10 minutes (not unlike a home pregnancy test) to see instant results about the presence or absence of lead and pesticides in your tap water.

Weaknesses: Manufacturer Mosser Lee's website notes that the test tube and a recording log for cataloging test results are included. However, Young notes that while instructions for reading the results are also included, there are no instructions on how to take the water sample in the first place.

This is particularly worrisome considering Mosser Lee’s own statement at the bottom of their product page asserts:

H20 OK and H2O OK Plus Test Kits tests are screening tests and are not meant to certify water as safe or unsafe for drinking. LabTech tests provide approximate results only when used in strict accordance with instructions. LabTech and its affiliates expressly disclaim any liability resulting from the use of these products, failure to follow instructions or reliance of test results.

It is concerning that results are dependent on strict accordance with incomplete instructions.

Additionally, the company that developed H20 OK Plus Test Kit’s test-strip technology, Silver Lake, explained to Young through spokesperson Mark Geisberg that the test doesn’t test for “particulate lead,” which are small grains of lead that still pose a health risk.

Certifications: Silver Lake’s spokesperson told Young and USA TODAY that no government agency certifies or verifies these types of home lead test kits. As the vials are never sent off for testing, there is no outside lab involved that carries any certifications, either.

PurTest Lead Test

We checked into yet another at-home lead testing kit option, the PurTest Lead Test from American Water Service LLC out of North Carolina.

Cost: Amazon lists PurTest at $16 currently, although other outlets list the price as low as $12.

Testing Attributes: Describing itself as a “rapid immunoassay test of lead in drinking water,” the PurTest Lead Test claims it can “detect lead at very low levels, even below the EPA action level of 15 ppb.” They also promise results in 10 minutes, and guide users to their website if they have any questions.

Users must fill a sample vial with their home drinking water and then place a test strip within the vial. After ten minutes, blue lines appear on the strip. Depending on which of the two blue lines is darkest, users will be alerted as to whether their water is contaminated with lead.

Weaknesses: PurTest notes in their documentation that “PurTest is a screening test and cannot be used to certify water as safe or unsafe for drinking.” It provides “approximate results.” Like Mosser Lee’s H20 OK Plus Test Kit, the PurTest Lead Test is a do-it-yourself home test that relies on the user to both correctly administer the test and interpret the results.

Certifications: The front of the box for PurTest says “Laboratory Certified,” but it’s unclear through available online documentation what that certification entailed. Both PurTest and the American Water Service list themselves as members of the Water Quality Association, although it is unclear whether PurTest is backed by a WQA-certification.

Double Check before you Test

If there’s one thing Young’s research for USA TODAY and our own follow-up digging indicate, it is that you can’t fully trust a lead or water testing kit to deliver reliable and accurate results without doing some homework first:

  1. Compare & Review. Before buying, it's important to compare across test kits, read reviews, and research the at-home kit company.

  2. Certifications & Instructions. If you decide on an at-home test, make sure you understand an at-home test's certifications and instructions.

Finally, even if a test is adequately performed at home, the job ends here. At home test-kits deliver information about a handful of contaminants about your water quality, so these test do not paint the full picture of what is in your water. Additionally, water quality can change over time, so be sure to re-test if you taste, smell, or hear about any changes in the water quality. 

The ideal case: go through a state-certified lab

SimpleWater recommends having your water tested through the use of a lead test kit recommended by the state or other government authority, and analyzed by a water quality laboratory accredited by the same government authority.

 

SimpleWater: We Test, Therefore We Know.

A note from the caring folks at SimpleWater — We are a water testing, analysis and health data company intent on providing the best water testing, analysis and reporting service ever created. 

We serve homes, families and businesses asking: “what’s in my water, what does it mean, and how do I ensure the safety of what I’m drinking?”

SimpleWater’s national team of certified laboratory scientists, engineers, health experts and designers provide each customer with a personalized Tap Score Water Quality Report. SimpleWater’s Tap Score is the Nation’s First Smart Water Testing Service for affordable and informative contaminant screening and personalized treatment recommendations.

Call Anytime :: 888 34 MY WATER (+1-888-346-9928)

Find Out What’s In Your Water at MyTapScore.Com

Water Quality Challenges in California Schools

Water In School SimpleWater Tap Score

California is the most populous state in the USA and the sixth largest economy in the world–and yet, the state’s 10,000 schools and 6 million students are struggling to stay afloat and healthy. Budget woes and school performance take the media spotlight, but there’s a silent threat that demands more attention: public school tap water is negatively impacting the health and well-being of the state’s youth.  

In California’s schools, clean water is often inaccessible for the entire school day, forcing some schools to bring in bottled water.

A 2016 report by Community Water Center found that between 2003-2014, up to 24% of the schools reviewed were exposed to unsafe drinking water, with contaminants ranging from nitrates to lead. CWC also found that between 500,000 to over 1 million students attended schools whose water systems did not always meet primary safe drinking water standards. While progress is being made to improve water quality through regulations at the federal and state level, there is still a way to go.

Water Quality Problems in CA Schools

Lead and nitrates in drinking water result from deteriorated source water and outdated pipes and infrastructure leading to the schools’ tap. With regards to source water, California schools rely on a mix of “community” water systems, such as public utilities and mutual water companies, and “non-community” water systems that the schools operate themselves (which are largely wells that are located nearby or on-site).

Community water systems provide treated water to over 25 people or at least 15 service connections year round, whereas non-transient non-community water systems provide water to similar populations, but not for the entire year. Around 20% of California school districts–which are mostly in the Central Valley–operate non-community systems.

A 2009 report by the Associated Press covering water quality at schools operating their own water supply found that California led the nation in Safe Drinking Water Act violations between 1998-2008. According to the AP, there were 612 violations in that time and in the extreme “(o)ne elementary school in Tulare County, in the farm country of the Central Valley, broke safe-water laws 20 times.”

The AP also reported that pollution was not limited to schools operating their own wells. Those who used community water sources also experienced water quality problems–especially in schools with older plumbing. This reflects a persistent and unaddressed water quality in California’s public school system.

Source Water Contamination

Contaminants from the water source impacting these schools include arsenic, lead, and nitrates.

At high levels, arsenic can cause various types of cancer and is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, developmental effects and reproductive problems.

Nitrates contaminate groundwater largely because of fertilizer overuse in the agricultural industry and are prevalent in rural, agricultural communities. Tap water contaminated with nitrates is known to cause blue baby syndrome, leading to coma or death. Nitrates are especially present in the water of schools that rely on their own groundwater in rural, agricultural parts of California.

These schools have been facing additional burdens during the state’s ongoing drought: as groundwater levels fall, pollutants become more concentrated and more expensive to treat.

Infrastructure Related Contamination

Many schools have lead or copper pipes that pose risks to drinking water. Lead exposure after the Flint, Michigan lead crisis has been covered widely nationwide (and by SimpleWater, here). Learning disabilities, attention and behavioral problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss are all health problems associated with lead exposure. Lead is especially dangerous for children because they are early in their development and physically smaller and thus more vulnerable to elevated concentrations.

Copper, which is present in older plumbing materials, can lead to liver or kidney damage through long-term exposure, while causing gastrointestinal problems in the short term. Other secondary contaminants, such as manganese and iron, can tarnish the taste, odor, or color of drinking water. These can also cause discoloration of skin and damage kidneys and other organs.

What’s been done so far?

Unsafe water in California’s schools is a crisis issue, not least because the state is unclear about the extent of the problem. In an award-winning essay at Stanford Law school in 2016, Elizabeth Jones investigated regulatory issues around drinking water in California schools and reports that:

It is uncertain exactly how many schools have shut off fountains or are unknowingly allowing students to drink contaminated water because many schools do not test their water.

Historically, some students even had to go the entire school day without access to drinking water at all – and S.B 1413, a law that was passed in 2010, only requires access to “free, fresh drinking water” at lunch. The law is a victory for nutrition advocates combating the use of sugary drinks, but with regards to water quality, it is still limited: the Department of Education website covering SB 1413 for schools simply states that:

Providing water to children is very important; however, there may be concerns about the safety of water in your community or schools. We recommend that you work with your community and local water district to address any concerns about water quality before providing tap water routinely.

The law also doesn’t include many enforcement mechanisms, which threatens the long-term success of the program. Many school districts are trying to address the issue of unsafe water in their schools, but it will take time and money. This might not always be available.

A large number of schools are facing budget constraints that prevent them from taking the necessary actions to upgrade their water infrastructure. Instead, these schools are providing bottled water at lunch per the S.B. 1413 ruling. This is a stopgap that doesn’t address the long-term challenge, but at least it reflects a step to safeguard students’ health.

Help on the way?

California is taking its first steps toward improving school water quality and advocates hope that there will be more opportunities on the way. As a part of its 2016-2017 budget, the state has established a “Clean Water for Schools Grant Program” which will provide $9.5 million in funding for clean drinking water projects. The grants, which will go online in 2017, target schools in small disadvantaged communities and will include several types of projects.

The program’s website states that it will provide funding for water bottle filling stations, new or repaired drinking water fountains with treatment options at the source, or point-of-use treatment for drinking water fountains with maintenance and training for up to three years.

These grants are critical for improving water quality at many schools in California.

The program also leaves open the potential for more projects beyond the 3 types above, so its coverage may expand in the future.

The long road ahead….

It’s clear that California’s schools have a major water quality crisis, but its full extent remains unknown, largely because of a lack of oversight and good data.  In many ways, California is simply behind the curve on water testing: for example, about 56% of states require inspection of school drinking water outlets for lead contamination, but California does not.

The California Superintendent of Public Schools recently called for more water testing, and the Community Water Center is also calling for a statewide database and regular testing, among other improvements. Officials at the district and state level have a responsibility to monitor and address these issues to  guarantee access to safe water for vulnerable populations like California's youth.


SimpleWater: We Test, Therefore We Know.

A note from the caring folks at SimpleWater — We are a water testing, analysis and health data company intent on providing the best water testing, analysis and reporting service ever created. 

We serve homes, families and businesses asking: “what’s in my water, what does it mean, and how do I ensure the safety of what I’m drinking?”

SimpleWater’s national team of certified laboratory scientists, engineers, health experts and designers provide each customer with a personalized Tap Score Water Quality ReportSimpleWater’s Tap Score is the Nation’s First Smart Water Testing Service for affordable and informative contaminant screening and personalized treatment recommendations.

Call Anytime :: 888 34 MY WATER (+1-888-346-9928)

Find Out What’s In Your Water at MyTapScore.Com



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