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How many cities beyond Flint, Michigan, have a lead problem?

Lead poisoning

(NaturalNews) Reports of children being poisoned by lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, have shocked the nation – and for good reason. Unfortunately, the story of Flint, Michigan, isn't exactly unique. Children across the country are exposed to toxic lead everyday – levels which meet and exceed those in Flint.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions, and even death." Severe cases like these are uncommon in the United States, but that shouldn't put people at ease. Lead exposure, even in small doses, can stymie the brain development of fetuses and children, "resulting in reduced [IQ], behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment."

Flint is in the midst of a man-made crisis, declared the city in a press release last December. But the problem of lead poisoning is far more pervasive than just the city of Flint. In Pennsylvania, for instance, an estimated 8.5 percent of children tested had hazardous levels of lead in their blood.

Other U.S. cities have higher concentrations of lead than Flint, Michigan

"In light of the Flint debacle, we wanted people to understand that water is not the only thing that's poisoning children," Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, Inc., told sources. "Most people think the lead problem was solved when we took lead out of gasoline and new homes in the 1970s, but that's not true."

It's not just a problem in Pennsylvania either. In New Jersey, for example, communities with high concentrations of lead include Irvington, East Orange, Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Atlantic City, New Brunswick and Passaic and Cumberland counties, reports NJ.com. According to a 2014 batch of statistics from the New Jersey Department of Health, eleven cities and two counties in New Jersey had a greater percentage of children with elevated lead levels than children in Flint did in 2015.

Furthermore, data gathered by the CDC found that more than 40 percent of the states that provided lead test results in 2014 had higher rates of lead poisoning in children than in Flint. Approximately 4 percent of children five years of age or younger had blood-lead levels of at least five micrograms per deciliter in Flint, which is the threshold that requires public health action. Outside of Michigan, twelve states had a greater percentage of children under six who met and beat that threshold.

Sources of lead poisoning

Lead poisoning isn't solely caused by tainted water. In fact, unlike in Flint, Michigan, most cases of lead poisoning come from exposure to the air and household products. Homes built prior to 1978 – the year lead was banned from paint – still have lead paint coated on their window sills. Whenever these windows are opened, they release clouds of lead-contaminated dust into the air. These pollutants are breathed in by children, causing long-term damage to both the brain and bodily organs.

The CDC estimates that around 24 million household units have deteriorated lead paint and dangerous levels of lead-contaminated dust. More than four million of these units are home to children. Pennsylvania is fourth in the country for having the most home units built prior to 1978.

The greatest threat of lead poisoning in the United States, however, stems from inner city soil infested with decades old gasoline. Gas became unleaded in the mid-1970s. Before then, all the lead burned was released into the air and fell back down to Earth. Since lead particles don't biodegrade, they mixed with the soil. This lead accumulated in the centers of major cities, where heavy traffic was and is still commonplace.

"Flint is an anomaly because they screwed up so badly with the water," Matt Milcarek, a city commissioner in Kalamazoo, Mich., said to MLive. "But lead in the home is what's poisoning our children. It makes me nervous that everyone is focused on water right now, and so people may test their water and think they're safe, when they may not even be remotely safe [from lead]."

The amount of lead infested soil has become so bad that the District of Columbia's Department of Energy recommends parents "cover any bare soil" in their backyards that their kids could be exposed to. Pets can roll around in backyard soil and bring it into the household as well.

These recommendations only go so far, however. There are no citywide programs that will – or can – provide every backyard with an immovable blanket. The Department of Parks and Recreation has covered up soil at city playgrounds so that children are not exposed to the contaminated dirt. However, many Parks and Recreation Departments are headed by the National Park Service, which neither covers its soil nor tests it for lead.

Sketching a picture of America's lead crisis

Truth be told, there isn't much research on lead levels for the majority of U.S. cities. Most cities do not have the local researchers necessary to conduct such research.

Although the full-extent of America's lead problem is unknown, it's far worse than is generally recognized. In order to sketch a more accurate picture of the problem at hand, food scientist Mike Adams, and a former NASA contract scientist, are conducting a nationwide scientific analysis of heavy metals in the tap water of U.S. cities.

"In the spirit of citizen science and the democratization of science, we are taking on this task because the EPA has failed the citizens of Flint, Michigan," explains Adams. "When government regulators refuse to do their jobs, it is the duty and responsibility of citizen scientists to take on that task in the public interest. The health and lives of millions of children are at stake," Adams continues. "We don't have time to wait for the EPA to someday decide to do its job. We need to protect our children right now."

The team is calling on health professionals throughout the country to send tap water samples to their lab for testing. A downloadable form (PDF) with instructions is available at EPAwatch.org.

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