It has been three years since the lead contamination and consequent drinking water crisis occurred in Flint, Michigan. Given the extent of aging infrastructure throughout the country, the question is, who will be next? Both Newark, New Jersey and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are currently facing similar circumstances.
In 2016, the same year Flint was dealing with lead in drinking water, Newark was also facing accusations of lead-contaminated water, although the city reported the issue to be confined to buildings with aging infrastructure. Subsequently, they prohibited the use of water fountains in 30 schools, providing bottled water, instead. The following year, testing was performed that “showed more than 10 percent of homes in the city had lead levels exceeding the 15-parts-per-billion federal limit.” The situation was then compounded when the city distributed water filters to residents with poor instructions for installation; the EPA found that even with the use of the filters, lead levels were still above the federal limit.
Pittsburgh is following a path similar to Flint and Newark. In 2016, an advocacy organization filed a lawsuit against the city after an unsuccessful lead pipe replacement project prompted increased demands for water testing. The city didn’t admit to an issue with lead until 2017 when it began supplying water filters to specified residents. The lawsuit settled earlier this year (February 2019) with Pittsburgh agreeing to replace piping and provide water filters to residents at no charge. Homes with children were also to be given priority.
The scope of the lead problem reaches far beyond these two communities. A congressional investigative report examining lead levels between 2014-2016 found that two percent of public water systems had lead levels that surpassed the federal limit. Already a significant statistic, that number is in fact higher as less than half of the states reported findings.
The time it takes to respond to the issue of lead contamination is a cause for public concern. Lead exposure poses numerous health risks and often the timeline for identifying the problem, deciding a course of action, and navigating the negative impact to the community is drawn out over several years. In the meantime, if the lead exposure continues the repercussions become more extensive. Time will determine the outcome of the issues facing Newark and Pittsburgh and whether one will earn the unwanted title of “The Next Flint.” Hopefully, communities with similar problems will learn from these examples and act promptly to ensure public health.
 Enking, Molly. “Will Another U.S. City Emerge As the ‘Next Flint’?” CityLab, 21 Aug. 2019, www.citylab.com/environment/2019/08/safe-drinking-water-lead-contamination-flint-newark-pittsburgh/596458/.
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