Aging Midwest Water Infrastructure Risks Lead Contamination

June 28, 2022, 5 p.m. ·

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An individual holds a lead pipe, a steel pipe and a lead pipe treated with protective orthophosphate. (Photo courtesy of EPA)

A recent story exposed a big problem - cities in the Midwest that have no idea how many lead pipes feed water into people’s homes.

Allison Kite from the Missouri Independent recently wrote an article highlighting lead contamination caused by aging water pipes across the Midwest. At a Twitter Spaces meeting hosted by the Midwest Newsroom, Kite described the corroding pipes as time bombs waiting to release harmful toxins.

“Lead is a neurotoxin, it’s especially harmful for little kids under 6 because they absorb more of it. It can cause developmental delays, behavioral problems like ADHD,” she said.

Virginia Tech professor of water resources engineering Marc Edwards also spoke at the meeting. He said record keeping on numbers and locations of lead pipes is astoundingly poor.

“Our water infrastructure has a rating of about a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. But the worst part is the ignorance about where the lead pipes are,” he said.

Edwards said not everyone is facing imminent risk, but the longer we prolong the issue the more people will be affected.

“Until we get those lead pipes out of the ground it will continue to haunt one generation after another,” he said.

Kite said if people at home would like to minimize risk, they can invest in a NSF-certified lead filter. Edwards advised that citizens call their local water utility to ask what type of water pipe is used for their home, as well as how certain they are of the water pipe material.