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Since contaminated water was descovered in Flint, Michigan, water contamination has surfaced in many other states including Idaho, where Ucon Elementary School was recently stricken with contaminated drinking fountains and then labeled safe after specific fountains were replaced.
Ucon Elementary School had an initial test on Feb. 8, that showed the water at 30 parts per billion and a followup test on Feb. 16 showed the water at 50 ppb, exceeding the national EPA standard for lead levels of 15ppb, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
Jared Bowden, a member of the chemistry department, said that lead can be found everywhere because it is prevalent all over the environment.
“It’s normally going to be found in water; it’s just the level in which it’s found,” Bowden said. “Some sources of water have less lead in the rocks in which they go across.”
In Flint, Michigan, when the city switched water supplies, iron and lead began leaching into the water supplies and turning the water brown, according to CNN.
“The major issue is that because lead takes on a specific charge, it actually substitutes for many minerals and it’s got not only known toxic effects, but it’s hard for the body to eliminate,” Bowden said. “It takes places and blocks many known metabolic processes that are known to lead to damage, substituting to and going in place of many other minerals.”
Bowden said that the country has been moving way from using lead for years.
“Lead was also used heavily as it’s a nice soft metal, for solder; plumbers would use that but it was never something that was heavily exposed to the populace,” Bowden said. “It was always put in with your copper pipes, but it wasn’t something that was heavily exposed on the water side; however, there was lead in some of the galvanized pipes and things like that that we’ve dealt with and had hence been replaced over long periods of time.”
Today, lead exposure is more likely to come from soil, minerals and from water corrosion of plumbing, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
“Lead buildup will end up in your blood, which will be affecting your heme groups, mineralizing your bones and teeth, and your soft tissues like your kidneys, liver, and heart,” Bowden said.
Anna Duncan, a mother to four children and a junior studying English, said she would be unsettled if her hometown’s water system tested positive for high levels of lead.
“We do have water food storage, which helps, but it is a scary prospect to not have a backup especially at a school or a public place,” Duncan said.
The effects of lead poisoning on the children in Flint, Michigan are irreversible and they will likely live with lifelong effects, according to CNN.
“Lead can replace other minerals in the body like iron or calcium and is known to go into blood and into your bones,” Bowden said. “When it incorporates, it’s considered to be damaging and toxic and can effect production of how hard your bones are, what happens to your blood, how well it carries oxygen, and whether you can live a long, prosperous life or have issues.”
Bowden said when the water is sitting, that is when lead can leach in and higher levels can be found, it is recommended that people keep the water flushed out and moving.
It is recommended not to drink or cook with water that has been sitting overnight and to avoid using hot water from the faucet, due to its predisposition for containing higher levels of lead, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
Duncan said that a preventative measure to eliminate any remaining lead pipes in the state of Idaho would be a positive course of action for the community.
“I know in buildings now they don’t even use lead, it’s all PVC pipes and probably it would take a lot of work to do that, but it would be better for us and the environment,” Duncan said.