Texas has one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States. While this is great in terms of economic growth and opportunities, it does come with its share of challenges.
As Texas dealt with an unexpected ice freeze, it was evident that the state’s infrastructure was not capable of withstanding extreme weather. One of the most urgent issues Texas must address is how to manage and maintain its critical resources such as water.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey showed how easily Texas’s water treatment system could become congested. The hurricane forced hazardous pollution, including human waste, into Texas’s water bodies and affected millions of people’s drinking water systems. Contaminants like chemical toxins and fecal bacteria were released into the water supply, which threatened Texas’s drinking water quality.
Flint, Michigan Water Crisis
When we talk about water quality, one of the most infamous cases that comes to mind is the Flint, Michigan water crisis in 2014. Michigan decided to switch the community’s water source to the Flint River. However, it failed to properly treat the water to ensure that the pipes would not get corroded. Lead and other contaminants leached into the water supply, thus ignoring a problem for more than a year. (Douglas, 2021)
It has now come to light that practices that lead to water contamination in Flint are happening in communities in Houston, Texas as well.
Lead in Texas Water
Chloramine is a disinfectant, and it contains a group of compounds containing chlorine and ammonia. It is used extensively throughout the United States to rid cities’ drinking water of waterborne infectious diseases. Though it works well in killing harmful organisms, if it is used without an anticorrosive agent, chloramine can cause old pipes to corrode. This releases iron, lead, and other metals into the drinking water system.
How Lead in Drinking Water Affects Us
Lead in water, even at low exposure, is harmful to human health, especially for children. Adults exposed to lead could suffer from decreased kidney function, increased blood pressure, hypertension, and reproductive problems in both men and women. If pregnant women are exposed to lead, it could affect the mother and developing fetus, causing premature birth or reduced fetus growth. Lead may also be transmitted through breast milk.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no known safe level of lead in children’s blood. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of lead poisoning on their brain and nervous system.
Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Lower IQ and hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma, and even death. (US EPA, 2020)
Testing for Lead in Schools’ Drinking Water in Texas
In the aftermath of the Flint, Michigan water crisis and an update to the federal standards on lead and copper exposure, Texas aims to take concrete steps to address its water quality issues.
For the first time, Texas will begin a program to test drinking water in the state’s roughly 25,000 schools and daycare facilities. Previously Texas did not have any testing requirement, but soon these schools and daycare facilities will undergo mandated water inspections for lead and copper.
What Are the Next Steps
Today government entities and researchers are examining ways to monitor and solve water quality issues. Public utility services could replace their lead service lines. However, it would be costly to replace pipes in homes that have an old infrastructure.
The best long-term solution is a lead abatement program, in which the local or state government would bear the cost to replace lead pipes in older homes.
There are also steps that homeowners can do to remove lead in the water, such as,
- Using a water filter pitcher or installing a water filter as part of the kitchen faucet.
- Cleaning your faucet’s screen (also known as an aerator) regularly.
- Using a water filter certified to remove lead and know when it’s time to replace the filter.
- Turning on the water and letting the faucet run for a few minutes.
Communities across Texas are working towards managing and protecting their water resources. It’s essential to build partnerships between the federal government, state and municipal agencies, water purveyors, and local communities. Only when they collaborate with professional water engineers and experts will they resolve the water infrastructure challenge. It is the only way to protect the precious natural resource of water for future generations.
Douglas, Erin. “Texas Prepares to Test for Lead in Schools’ Drinking Water for the First Time.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 28 Jan. 2021, www.texastribune.org/2021/01/28/texas-lead-drinking-water-schools/.
US EPA. “Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 9 Dec. 2020, www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water.
Wythe, Kathy. “Lead in Texas Water?” TWRI, Texas Water Resources Institute, 2020, twri.tamu.edu/publications/txh2o/2020/winter-2020/lead-in-texas-water/.