Does California Have A Lead Problem In Drinking Water?
Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Nerd
With nationwide focus on synthetic contaminants like PFAS, we wanted to address an under-reported problem in California tap water. Lead contamination has been flying under the radar in the years following the Flint, Michigan lead crisis. Although Flint brought attention to lead contamination, it’s still a major nationwide problem, even in 2020. California has older lead-containing infrastructure in all major cities throughout the entire state. To make matters worse, utility companies are only required to test a handful of homes to determine city-wide lead levels. This article highlights California cities with the highest lead concentrations, and how you can remove it from drinking water.
Where In California Has The Highest Levels of Lead?
Major cities across the entire state of California have lead levels that are well above what health officials claim to be safe. For a bit of context, the current lead levels in Flint, Michigan are 4 parts per billion:
Los Angeles: 5.2 parts per billion
San Francisco: 6 parts per billion
San Jose: 5 parts per billion
Oakland: 2.4 parts per billion
Irvine: 5 parts per billion
How Much Lead Is Allowed In California Tap Water?
The current “Action Level” for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion. Dr. Jennifer Lowry, who is a chair member at the American Academy of Pediatrics says that "most existing lead standards fail to protect children. They provide only an illusion of safety.” People are surprised to learn that any amount of lead is even allowed in tap water. The reality is that lawmakers must weigh the harm to human health with the cost of removing it.
Is There A “Safe” Level of Lead?
For children, absolutely not. In fact, all major U.S. health agencies agree that there is no safe level of lead for children. The health agencies listed below all agree that any level of lead can cause the following:
Department of Health and Human Services: decreased intelligence, behavior problems, reduced physical stature and growth, and impaired hearing.
American Academy of Pediatrics: irreversible cognitive and behavioral problems, lower IQ scores and academic performance, inattention, impulsiveness, aggression and hyperactivity.
Environmental Protection Agency: damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
Center for Disease Control: damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and under-performance in school.
Not All Water Filters Remove Lead
It’s important to point out that not all water filters remove lead from drinking water. People are often under the assumption that their pitcher or counter filters take care of “everything” that might be in their drinking water. This is almost never the case. We wrote an in-depth article discussing why some water filters fail to remove lead, which can be found here. Additionally, some mass-produced water filters do not maintain the lead removal capabilities for the entire lifetime of the filter. When purchasing a water filter, make sure to ask for removal data at the beginning and end of the filters lifetime.
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- Analies Dyjak