Hidden Poison

Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website: hiddenpoison.org.

Joel Penner / flickr

Allegheny County recently tested 15 percent of children under the age of eight for lead exposure and found more than 7 percent had higher than recommended levels in their blood. In response, Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, called for legislation mandating the testing of all children in the state.

Ashley Murray, multimedia editor for the Pittsburgh City Paper, talked to several people about the extent of the problem in the area.

Harrisburg Ramping Up Lead Testing, Remediation Efforts

May 12, 2016
Emily Previti / WITF

Lead-based paint remains in homes in cities nationwide, including many in Pennsylvania, despite long-standing awareness of health risks to young children.

So Hamilton Health Center, located in one of Harrisburg's most distressed neighborhoods, already does free lead-exposure screenings for children under six.

But a new partnership with the city will mean the health center gets new equipment that will mean faster testing and response.

rumpleteaser / Flickr

Jenny Stalnaker, her husband, and their 3-year-old son Townes spend a good two hours cleaning their house every night before bed. 

Pittsburgh Sewer and Water Authority

In 2014, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority changed the treatment chemical used to prevent the corrosion of lead pipes, which keeps the toxic metal from leaching into drinking water.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said the switch—from soda ash to caustic soda—posed no threat to public health, but the DEP has cited PWSA for not clearing the change with the agency first, as is required by the state's safe drinking water regulations.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The city's water authority got a slap on the wrist Monday from the Wolf administration two years after making a critical change to the chemicals added to Pittsburgh drinking water.

State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority should have gotten approval from the state before switching from soda ash to caustic soda for corrosion control.

Flickr user Abby Lanes

Pittsburgh-based PPG industries announced to shareholders on Thursday that it will stop putting lead in any of its products by 2020.

The announcement came shortly after shareholder Perry Gottesfeld, public health activist and founder of the nonprofit Occupational Knowledge International, delivered a petition with more than 5,000 signatures asking the company to discontinue the use of lead.

“PPG is now the first large U.S. company to agree to completely reformulate their products and take out lead,” Gottesfeld said.

Seth Perlman / AP

 

More than 100 water systems in Pennsylvania have had lead levels above a federal threshold at least once since 2013, according to an Associated Press analysis of the data.

Courtesy of David Bellinger

 

It's 1957. Dr. Herbert Needleman is on his way to see a three-year-old patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Needleman is a young doctor, about six feet tall, with brown eyes and dark hair. This is the first case of lead poisoning he's ever seen.

When he shows up, the girl is not in good shape. Her eyelids are drooping. Her pulse is slow. She's not making a sound.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

  For Pennsylvania lawmakers, the problem of lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan has served as a rallying cry, a teachable moment and, now, a political cudgel.

This month, House and Senate members were determined not to waste Michigan’s crisis, invoking it to propel their own efforts to minimize lead exposure from old house paint and water pipes. But as some touted legislation, one House Republican criticized the governor’s office for not springing into action in the same way.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

 

Surrounded by state health officials and fellow lawmakers, Senator Vincent Hughes said, "The only thing good that came out of the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., is a renewed, intense effort from states around the country to attempt to address what's going on with lead in their respective communities."

Babar760 / Bigstock.com

  When David Rosner was a kid, he'd go into his grandfather's garage and mix up cans of paint. 

"I can still remember just sticking a stick in to mix it up and hitting halfway down a solid mass of hard stuff," said Rosner. "That was lead." 

Carlos Osorio / AP Images

When investigative journalist Curt Guyette was hired by the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he never expected to be breaking one of the biggest stories of 2015. Guyette, who is speaking at Point Park University tomorrow, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer that the Flint water crisis story was a collaborative mission by many local organizations to find and reveal truth.

Irina Zhorov / Keystone Crossroads

In Vogt True Value Hardware on Pittsburgh's South Side, the stock of plumbing pipes includes copper and plastic. The owner of the neighborhood store, Shawn Vogt, shook his head no when asked if he carries any lead lines. 

“It’s no longer legal,” he said. “That’s like an old fashioned thing.”

The store hasn’t carried any lead pipes in decades, he said. 

Ideas Worth Stealing: Replace All Lead Pipes

Feb 11, 2016
Paul Sancya / AP

Ideas Worth Stealing: Every week, Keystone Crossroads looks to cities across the world for lessons in urbanism and municipal governance that could benefit Pennsylvania. No city does it all right, and we hope these examples from metropolises near and far inspire and encourage cities here to think outside the box. 

Lead-Tainted Water Has A Long History In The U.S.

Jan 28, 2016
Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

The municipal water crisis in Flint, Mich., has brought new attention to the dangers of lead in drinking water.

When the city starting using the Flint River as its source for municipal water in 2014, the water was so corrosive, it caused lead to leach out of pipes and fixtures. 

How Safe Is Pittsburgh's Drinking Water?

Jan 22, 2016
Paul Sancya / AP Images

After thousands of children were exposed to lead due to poor water quality in Flint, Michigan, many across the nation are wondering if their own water is safe. Could it happen in Pittsburgh? Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with James Good, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, to see what the agency is doing to remain compliant.  

Health Department to Make Low-income Homes Healthy

May 29, 2014

Every day, an average of 36,000 children in the United States miss school because of an asthma attack, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Unfortunately, many children are exposed to asthma triggers such as mold and dust mites, along with other health hazards, in their homes.

Now, lower income households with children can receive free home health inspections from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) to detect risks such as asthma triggers, mold spores, and lead paint.

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