how Children are exposed

Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children

Children are exposed to lead from different sources. Lead is especially dangerous to children under the age of six. At this age, children’s brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children’s growing bodies absorb more lead. Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.

Common sources of lead poisoning in children.

Lead Abatment for Workers. Chapter 1. Student..pdf

​​Lead in Water

Lead exposure from drinking water from lead water lines is a major route of exposure, recently brought into the national spotlight by Flint, MI. While we here in Memphis are blessed with deep natural aquifer, this pristine water is ruined as it passes through aged lead water lines. MLG&W estimates around 30,000 lead water lines remain in Memphis, largely in the older areas of the City in and around the parkways, South and North Memphis (Charlier). And while MLG&W offers free water testing, the vast majority of homes serviced by lead water lines remain untested. In addition, the protective effects offered by phosphate addition to the water only last as long as the integrity of the line remains intact. And with most of these lines nearing 100 years of age, their integrity is of major concern.

Drinking water from a lead line is like drinking through a lead straw. This infrastructure poses a constant risk to residents. At any point in time this line could crack or weaken, whether from disturbances due to construction, digging, tree roots, freeze, etc. Water in a home could test perfectly fine one day, and a disturbance to the water line the following day could lead to a spike in lead released without any notice to residents. Drinking from lead water lines is like Russian Roulette, where each day the dice are rolled until eventually lead gets into the water.

Studies show that just 11 parts per billion (ppb) in water used for infant formula can result in blood lead levels of 5 µg/dL in 10% of those exposed (Triantafyllidou). The Lead & Copper Rule currently allows up to 15 ppb of lead in water, meaning that many infants can still be lead poisoned from currently allowable lead water levels. And lead in water continues to cause chronic lead poisoning.

Simply put, drinking from lead water lines must come to an end! We have been working with MLG&W to address this for the past six years (discussed in more detail below), however there is much more that can be done and for this we need City Council to understand.

​Lead and Copper Rule passed in 1991. The lead levels in the water began to rise in D.C. in 2001, caused in part by a switch from chlorine to chloramine that causes lead scale on pipes to release into the water. Lead ppb in water equals micrograms per liter.

Lead in Paint

Any house built before 1978 is likely to have lead paint if the older paint has not been removed or safely covered. Shelby County Housing estimates that there are currently >200,000 pre-1978 houses in Memphis that could contain lead hazards, of which only around 3200 have gone through the Lead Safe Registry.

Memphis must enforce the Renovation, Restoration, and Painting Rule (RRP Rule). This is a federal rule from the USEPA that requires lead-safe practices for working on pre-1978 houses. Specifically, it requires lead-safe training for licensed contractors, so that old paint is wetted before removal to avoid creating lead dust and plastic is placed on the ground to collect the paint for safe disposal. Considering the lead poisoning epidemic we continue to face, Memphis must move forward in adopting and enforcing this rule as the state is slow to enact it as law.

​ Lead in Soil

Another source of lead exposure is through lead-contaminated soil. Lead can get mixed into soil from lead paint that has fallen off of buildings, lead air pollution that settles on the ground, and industrial pollution. Areas of blight are high risk as lead dust can be blown into surrounding areas, including playgrounds. Lead from infrastructure, such as bridges, railroads, light poles, fire hydrants, etc. has been found peeling and contaminating sidewalks and street corners in Memphis, much of which remains unabated. A study in New Orleans found that lead poisoning spiked in warmer months each year as grass dies and lead dust gets blown in the air, referred to as Zombie Dust (Zahran et al.). Homes in Chicago were recently found to have incredibly high levels of lead in their yards due to nearby industrial pollution (Rosa Flores, CNN). Philadelphia is dealing with significant release of lead dust from industrial areas undergoing new development (Ruderman). Many homes that are made lead-safe through the City Lead Paint program includes soil lead abatement, however lead in soil in Memphis remains a largely under-evaluated problem. Building demolitions can also be a significant contributor, since without proper safety precautions, lead contained in the structure will turn to dust and spread across large areas. Memphis must implement demolition regulations to protect against lead dust. Improper demolition releases massive amounts of toxic lead dust into the surrounding areas.