ByElissa Nuñez and Amy Molloy, Center for Public Integrity |
WASHINGTON, D.C. – When Ceon Dubose Palmore got thirsty at school, an administrator had to escort the 15-year-old past trash-bag-covered fountains to a faucet two floors down. This report is part of a project on drinking water contamination in the United States produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. Like many schools across the country, her Washington, D.C. middle school discovered lead in its drinking water, making most fountains unsafe to drink. It took months to install filters sporadically around the school. Ceon rarely asked to get a drink from the working fountains since teachers didn’t want kids disrupting class time.
New Mexico is among the worst states when it comes to identifying all the children who have been poisoned by lead. That’s according to a study published last week in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nationwide, only 64 percent of lead-poisoned children under the age of five are identified by testing. In New Mexico, that number is much lower—just five percent. Lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago.
Yesterday, we wrote about attempts to get answers from the New Mexico Department of Health about elevated lead levels in children. In December, Reuters published a map on childhood lead poisoning across the nation. The story, with an accompanying map, “Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than Flint,” looked at where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the toxic metal in their blood. Related story: State remains silent on lead poisoning data
According to Reuters, about 2.5 percent of American infants and children six years-old and younger have elevated lead levels in their blood. In Flint, a city grappling with lead contamination from its water system, 5 percent of the children screened had elevated levels.
In December, Reuters published a map on childhood lead poisoning across the nation. The story and accompanying map, “Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than Flint,” looked at where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the metal in their blood. Severe lead poisoning can lead to seizures, coma and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For children, there is no such thing as a safe exposure to lead, which causes permanent neurological damage and behavioral disorders. Even though lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago, the ongoing Flint, Michigan emergency highlighted that lead poisoning is still a problem in the United States.
An investigation found areas in New Mexico with lead levels that exceed national levels of allowable lead in water. And even those numbers appear to understate the issue. In the wake of the Flint water crisis, when a governor-appointed city manager changed the water source to the city resulting in incredibly high levels of lead in drinking water, many are paying more attention to the problems of lead in water. An Associated Press investigation found 17 entities with levels higher than federal levels in New Mexico, according to a review of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) database. The Centers for Disease Control wrote in a 2012 report “no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified.” Lead exposure can lead to “an adverse health effect such as IQ loss.” It can also have neurotoxic effects in both adults and children.