Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lead in Water a Major Problem In Pennsylvania


Cities like Allentown and Altoona had more than double the state exposure rate of 9.37 percent, and the group of 20 cities had a collective rate of 11.49 percent, also higher than the state rate. The geometric mean of blood lead level tests performed in Pennsylvania was 2.3 µg/dL, which is substantially lower than the state's rate, indicating some cities in Pennsylvania are disproportionately impacted by lead exposure.
The percentage of confirmed lead exposure cases in Pennsylvania has decreased by 47 percent in children under the age of 7 since 2007, but these 20 cities continue to remain incredibly vulnerable. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that the primary source for childhood lead poisoning in Pennsylvania is exposure to aging, deteriorating lead-based paint (chips and dust).
Pennsylvania does not have a universal testing law, so there is no mandate for children to be tested by a certain age. However, health care providers are required to test children on medical assistance at age 1 and 2, and most clinical practices recommend testing children under 7. Both groups have experienced an increase in the number of children tested since 2007, but it should be noted that only a quarter of the children under 3 are tested and between one-seventh and one-eighth of the population of children under 7 are tested.
Why would Pennsylvania have such high levels?  Well it doesn't help that the urban areas in Pennsylvania grew much earlier than many other places, and also saw their dominant industries decline much sooner than others.  It doesn't help that these cities infrastructure is very old and disintegrating.  But this doesn't help either:
 The Lead Industries Association (LIA) was formed in 1928 as the lead industry’s trade organization. Its membership encompassed both producers and users of lead products and included all the major producers. Lead mining and manufacturing was dominated by just 6 companies (all LIA members) until the 1960s: the National Lead Company, American Smelting and Refining, Anaconda, the Hecla Mining Company, Eagle Picher, and the St Joseph Lead Company.31 The National Lead Company was by far the largest.32
As would be expected of an industrial trade association, a central function of the LIA was to promote the sale of its members’ products. Lead pipe, of course, was one of them.
We are endeavoring to keep abreast of any impending changes in plumbing codes. . . . We have also been investigating the use of lead in service pipe and other applications. We have been accumulating useful information pertaining to lead and expect soon to make it the basis of a modest educational campaign within the limits of the current budget.33
Although most of the lead industry’s efforts to promote the use of lead in plumbing emphasized the positive (i.e., the advantages of lead over other materials), there clearly was some concern that the potential health hazard of lead pipes could jeopardize the market for lead pipes....
According to the secretary, 1938 was a banner year for the LIA. The association now had 3 representatives working on its Plumbing Promotion Program. Most of their time was taken up that year by attendance at 24 state conventions of master plumbers and by speaking at 19 of them. Outreach materials were produced and distributed to plumbers who were actively attempting to change their local building codes. The association’s trade publication, Plumbers’ Forum, had a mailing list of 22500. Plans were announced to “work with various housing authorities to have lead specified in the plumbing of . . . large developments.”43 Plumbing code regulations were changed in Pennsylvania (to require lead for plumbing), Massachusetts (removal of the 5-foot limitation on lead), and in dozens of other cities. In this connection, the secretary reminded the members that
It must be remembered that adoption of laws, as above, is slow work, but once adopted, make a relatively permanent requirement of lead. In many cities, we have successfully opposed ordinance or regulation revisions which would have reduced or eliminated the use of lead. We have prevented elimination of lead work from examinations for plumbers’ licenses in New York and other cities, and have introduced license examinations with a lead work requirement in many places where no examinations for lead work were formerly required.43(pp3–4)
In cities where lead had fallen out of favor for a number of years, there was the danger that, even if a revised plumbing code reinstated lead as a permitted or required material, there would not be a sufficient number of plumbers trained in its installation and repair. Consequently, the LIA expended some effort to train a labor force skilled in working with lead. Cooperating with the Federal Committee on Apprentice Training, in 1938 the LIA established classes in several cities, including Chicago; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; St Paul, Minnesota; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Phoenix.
Now there is a perfect example of lobbyists crafting legislation to benefit an industry at the expense of public safety.  Requiring the use of lead pipes at a time when science had already established the danger of lead?  That is crazy.  Training workers to install the pipes because they had fallen out of favor due to the risk of lead poisoning?  Crazier.  I really couldn't believe it when I read in a story about Flint that Pennsylvania required lead pipes for a while.  But damn if that isn't true.  No wonder many cities there have even greater lead poisoning issues than Flint.

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