EPA comes up with plan to protect children from lead exposure

Kindergarten - Re-opened!
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | October 31, 2022

Lead has been found in the blood of fifty percent of children in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to limit and reduce exposure and illnesses caused by lead through screening more children, training people for a job in lead remediation, and so on.  

Carlton Waterhouse, the deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, said, “This for the first time represents the agency looking not only to limit the amount of exposure that children and others have to lead, but in fact to make significant improvements and advancements with regards to environmental justice by also addressing disparities, long standing disparities, in terms of who finds themselves adversely affected by lead.” 

According to a study last year by The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, the Midwest sees the highest numbers of exposure to lead. The EPA is working hard to reduce levels of lead that can be found in lead paint, soil, and so on. This includes changing the policy guidelines for Residential Soil Lead Guidance for Contaminated Sites and remedying 15 lead Superfund sites.  

Waterhouse said, “So we’re very focused on going towards those places that have hot spots, going towards those places and determining what the dominant and primary sources of that are in those communities.” 

Widespread lead poisoning found in bald eagles

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | February 17, 2022

New research from across the U.S. found many bald and golden eagles have lead poisoning.

The study examined 1,200 eagles from Alaska to Florida and found 46 percent of bald eagles and 47 percent of golden eagles had chronic lead poisoning. The eagles tested reside in 38 different states. According to the research, they are continually exposed to toxic heavy metals throughout their life spans.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Raptor Coordinator Brian Millsap coauthored the study. He said the research shows that “lead reduces the rate of population growth for both of these protected species.” While bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 2007 according to NBC News, Millsap said the golden eagle’s population is not as stable. He said the population could tip into overall decline due to the lead exposure.

The study is the first of its kind. Todd Katzner, a supervisory research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the study’s lead author, said the study illuminates how the lead in the environment can negatively impact eagles within the continent. The eight-year research project found lead can have lethal effects on the birds at a population level. The study suggests the exposure could impact the growth of both eagle species’ population moving forward.

Scientists believe lead can be entering the birds’ bodies via their food consumptions. The concentrations of lead spiked in the winter months, when it is harder for birds to find meals and eagles start to scavenge for meals for longer.

The lead exposure also leads to a reduced growth in bald eagles by nearly four percent.

UI offers free lead testing kits to state residents

Faucet from Creative Commons. 

Julia Poska | October 16, 2019

Iowa residents can improve their drinking water and support environmental research by participating in the University of Iowa’s “Get the Lead Out” initiative through Oct. 26.

The program offers free lead testing kits to Iowa residents outside of Johnson County. The UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering; and Center for Health Effects and Environmental Contamination are leading the initiative to collect information for a new database of lead levels in drinking water across Iowa.

Because lead, especially toxic to children, was once used commonly in household products, it may still be present in aging household plumbing across the state.

Interested households can email get-the-lead-out@uiowa.edu  to request and receive three bottles (and instructions) for collecting tap water samples.  After sending samples back to the university for testing, they will receive their results, an explanation and suggestions for improvement (such as adding a filter to the faucet).

Johnson County residents can contact any DNR-certified testing lab, such as the State Hygienic Laboratory, to acquire testing kits.



Thousands of Iowans exposed to drinking water contaminated with lead

Utilities stopped using lead pipes in water mains in the 1950’s, but copper service lines often contain lead that contaminate water if pipes are corroded. (Siddhartha Roy/FlintWaterStudy.org)


Jenna Ladd | December 20, 2016

More than 6,000 Iowans have been exposed to drinking water with levels of lead that exceed the 15 parts per billion the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe.

Following the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan this year, EPA began to investigate how states are monitoring and testing for lead in drinking water. According to a report by USA today, an estimated 4 million people live in communities were testing was performed improperly or skipped all together.

Per federal regulation, utilities with more than 50,000 customers must continually take measures to protect against pipe corrosion, which can cause to lead contamination. In contrast, communities with less than 50,000 people can stop protecting against contamination as soon as levels drop below the federal limit. Data from Iowa Department of Natural Resources show that 13 rural water systems in the state exceeded federal limits in the last six months. An additional five utilities failed to test for lead at all over this period of time.

The EPA requires communities with less than 50,000 people to perform 20 lead tests per water system twice per year. If those tests come back normal, the utility is allowed to test much less frequently: 10 tests at 10 separate locations every three years. Some towns with less than 3,000 residents can qualify to test every nine years. Lead contamination in drinking water can cause lowered IQ, irreversible brain damage, behavioral problems and language acquisition delays, particularly for children. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, there have been no reported instances of children with elevated lead levels in their blood in the most recent 20 years.

Richard Valentine, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Iowa, said, “I don’t think the regulation is adequate.” Valentine continued, “It’s like saying, ‘It’s OK if only 10 percent of your airplanes crash; you’ve got good safety.’ If you’ve got one failure, you’ve got one hundred (more). You’ve got to find out why, where and sample a whole bunch more times and do something about it.”

The town of Kalona was on the reduced-testing plan prior to lead tests performed in the community this September. Two of the ten private homes tested in the town had drinking water with lead levels that were three times higher than the EPA’s 15 parts per billion limit. Kalona must now double the number of lead tests performed on drinking water. Lead levels also exceeded federal limits in Council Bluffs, Shueyville, Churdan, Blue Grass and Livermore.

The EPA announced late last month that it will be reconsidering its lead regulations. Mary Mindrup is head of the EPA’s Region 7 drinking water management branch, which serves Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Mindrup said, “The EPA has always been concerned about smaller systems just because the economics are different…than larger systems.” She continued, “But we want to ensure that regardless of the size of system, everybody is receiving water that is safe to drink.”

Mindrup said that the EPA will focus on improving lead management for small rural communities and increasing water infrastructure funding.

Tulane researchers studying mockingbird songs to gauge effects of lead pollution


A mockingbird perched on a branch in Mexico. (Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)
A mockingbird perched on a branch in Mexico. (Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 20, 2015

Researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans are studying songs sung by mockingbirds to determine the effects of lead levels in the environment.

Dr. Renata Ribeiro – an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – has been studying the Northern Mockingbird. As the name implies, these birds often imitate the songs sang by other birds as well as car alarms, emergency sirens, and other sounds. The singing ability of male mockingbirds is crucial to finding a mate.

Ribeiro and other researchers are studying how the Northern Mockingbird and its songs are affected by lead pollution which contaminates much of the soil in The Big Easy. A 2011 study by Tulane University found that nearly two-thirds of New Orleans homes and yards contain “dangerous” levels of lead. Researchers attributed the high levels of lead to the demolition and renovation of houses after Hurricane Katrina as well as the large number of homes constructed before lead was banned from house paint in 1978. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has also reported air quality concerns in the state’s biggest city. Exposure to unsafe levels of lead and other environmental pollution has been tied to learning disabilities in children as well as neurological damage in animals.

Ribeiro’s efforts are part of a one-year study sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation. She and her team will return to the field next month as the birds become more active again in preparation for mating season.

MIT engineers discover way to create efficient solar panels using lead recycled from car batteries

Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014

Old car batteries and other debris strewn across an empty lot in El Paso, Texas. (Paul Garland/Flickr)
Old car batteries and other debris strewn across an empty lot in El Paso, Texas. (Paul Garland/Flickr)

Engineers at MIT have discovered a way to recycle parts from old car batteries and turn them into “long-lasting, low-cost solar panels.”

Scientists have recently discovered new potential for a material known as perovskite solar cells which can be harvested using lead from old car batteries. These cells have shown 19 percent efficiency in converting the sun’s energy into usable electricity and the lead from just one car battery can produce enough solar panels to power 30 homes.

Not only is this new method creating renewable energy but it also serves as a way to recycle lead which can have detrimental effects on entire ecosystems without proper disposal. Lead can also be recycled from an old solar panel and be used to create a new one. The report added that “photovoltaic performance of the PSCs (perovskite solar cells) synthesized by each route is the same, which demonstrates that device quality does not suffer from the materials sourced from spent car batteries. ”

Currently about 90 percent of the lead extracted from old batteries is used to create new batteries but an estimated 200 million lead-acid batteries are expected to be retired in coming years as the more efficient lithium-ion batteries are likely to take over the market.

The use of solar power in Iowa is expected to rise in the coming years because of recent reductions in the installation and cost of solar technology

Researchers meeting to discuss link between lead ammunition and dying bald eagles

Researchers found 168 dead bald eagles in the upper Mississippi area for a lead exposure study. (Contributed photo)
Researchers found 168 dead bald eagles in the upper Mississippi area for a lead exposure study. (Contributed photo)

Officials in the Upper Mississippi River U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge will meet today in Prairie du Chien, Wis., to discuss recent findings which link dying bald eagles and lead ammunition.

Beginning in 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists Ed Britton, Sarah Warner, Mike Coffey and Drew Becker collected dead bald eagles from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. After testing the livers of 168 dead birds, they found that 48 percent came back with detectable lead concentrations. 21 percent had lethal amounts of lead, indicating lead poisoning.

The lead most likely came from the carcasses of wild game left behind by hunters using lead ammunition. According to a fact sheet by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, eagles frequently scavenge deer and pheasant carcasses, many of which contain lead fragments left behind by hunters who cleaned the carcasses on-site and left behind gut piles which may contain lead fragments. High amounts of lead can be lethal, and non-lethal exposure can cause vision and respiratory problems, leading to secondary trauma.

Lead is currently the most popular material used in shotgun ammunition because it is dense, inexpensive, readily available and soft enough not to damage vintage gun barrels, a common problem with steel ammunition. Fortunately, companies in the hunting and shooting industry have already created several non-toxic alternatives, including Tungsten-Matrix, which has nearly the same density and softness as lead, key factors hunters look for when choosing ammunition.

The meeting today in Prairie du Chien is part of a series of information sessions being held in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Quad Cities over the course of two weeks. For more information on these meetings and the effects of lead on bald eagles, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Toxics found in Iowa’s imported packaging

Photo by Sharon Drummond, Flickr.

About 40 percent of imported plastic packaging tested in Iowa violated our state’s toxics laws.

The study looked at eight discount retail chain stores and found that all of the chains failed the screening test for cadmium, and one also failed for lead.

Exposure to cadmium has been linked to numerous health problems including itai-itai disease, breast cancer and renal abnormalities. Lead exposure can damage every organ in the body.

For more information on this study, go to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ website here.

House votes to nullify lead shot regulation

Photo by waitscm, Flickr.

The Iowa House voted Thursday to nullify a state administrative rule that banned the use of lead shot by dove hunters.

The regulation was originally proposed by the Natural Resource Commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor.

Many environmental advocates oppose the rule’s nullification, and argue that lead shot can harm the environment by poisoning animals that inadvertently ingest the pellets.

“Lead has proven to be harmful,” said Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic, D-Waterloo. “ I have done much research on this, and the most surprising feedback I’ve had from my constituents has been from those who do hunt who say, ‘You know, lead is not necessary.’ They are concerned about the impact that it will have on the wildlife and what kind of a planet it will leave for their kids and grandkids.”

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Iowa county is one of few areas nationwide not to meet lead standards

Mormon Bridge connects Pottawattamie County with Florence, Nebraska. Photo by Steve and Sara, Flickr

The EPA announced that most areas around the nation are meeting air quality standards for lead. Unfortunately, Iowa’s Pottawattamie County was one of the few areas not to meet these standards.

Overall, 11 states and Puerto Rico had at least one area that exceeded the EPA’s limit.

The lead standards were strengthened ten-fold in 2008.

The EPA’s news release reports that the areas failing to meet the lead standards are obligated to enact changes:

Areas designated as not meeting the standards will need to develop plans within 18 months and implement them within five years to reduce pollution to meet the lead standards. No areas in Indian Country are being designated nonattainment.

Lead emitted into the air can be inhaled or can be ingested after it settles. Ingestion is the main route of human exposure. Children are the most susceptible because they are more likely to ingest lead, and their bodies are developing rapidly. There is no known safe level of lead in the body.