Free «The History of Lead Poisoning in Water» Essay

The History of Lead Poisoning in Water


The level of contamination of all ecosystems is constantly growing. Contaminated water can purify itself under favorable conditions. However, there are pollutants that are completely alien to the ecosystems causing damage that is more significant. Among these pollutants, metals are especially dangerous. Toxicology of lead has been studied very carefully, because its amount in the environment is now growing at an unusually fast pace due to human activities. Lead poisoning has a long history, as it is known that in Roman times there have been cases of poisoning among people who used lead containers. Nowadays, the level of toxic poisoning of water sources with lead is growing and the only way to protect human health is to use a multileveled system of water cleaning. Besides, people have to be provided with sources of clean water and sanitary conditions. The paper discusses the dangers of lead poisoning of water and draws attention to the fact that marginalized groups of people are more affected by lead poisoning and its consequences.

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Historical Background

The first time lead had been widely used in manufacturing of water pipes. Lead is one of the softest metals that can be rolled into sheets. Roman engineers used lead in ancient devices for manufacturing water pipes. Pipes of Roman aqueducts were made from lead. Clearly, this was the main reason of the short duration of life among ancient Romans. All soluble lead compounds are poisonous. Water resistance of lead is determined by the amount of carbon dioxide in water. Small quantities of the latter form a lead carbonate compound that is insoluble in water (Troesken, 2006). Its presence on the surface of lead promotes the stability. If the carbon dioxide content is relatively high in the water, as it happened with the source that water-nourished ancient Rome, the carbon dioxide reacts with the lead, forming carbonic acid lead, which is highly soluble in water (Troesken, 2006). Getting into the human body in small portions, lead stays in it, gradually replacing the calcium, which is a part of the bone structure, causing chronic poisoning.

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Sources of lead appearing in water can be natural and anthropogenic. The first case suggests natural sources and lead washing out of its natural deposits. However, lead is actively used in human technological activities (Troesken, 2006). Currently, there is a list of areas of application of lead: the production of batteries, lead covering of inner surface of chemical equipment, pipes for pumping acid, sewers in chemical laboratories, military equipment, manufacture of electrical cables, and others (Troesken, 2006). All of the above require large amounts of pure lead. Metallic lead has a very good protection level against all types of radiation and X-rays. The maximum lead content in the air at industrial facilities cannot exceed 0.00001 mg per liter.

Approaches to Solving the Problem

Ten years ago, one of the most important challenges for America was to reduce lead pollution of the environment by switching to unleaded gasoline. Experience of many countries suggests that the solution to this problem can improve the ecological situation in the cities in general, the efficiency of cars, and the health of future generations. In the US, major studies have been conducted that have proven harmfulness of lead and allowed to establish the biological maximum of allowable concentration of the substance. The results showed the specific amounts of lead in blood of children that can change their psycho-neurological status. Lead is one of the most toxic metals and is included in the list of priority pollutants by several international organizations, including WHO, UNEP, the United States Agency for the control of toxic substances and disease, and other similar government agencies in different countries all over the world (Zimmerer & Bassett, 2012).

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Leading experts from different regions have studied the main sources of lead occurrence in the environment. Their studies provide a comparative assessment of the level of lead pollution in different regions of the US, presenting a comparative evaluation of lead in biological material of different population groups’ blood (Centers for Disease Control, 2005). An analysis of the results would create a list of necessary changes and decisions to be taken in the legal, regulatory, and economic directions to solve the problem of lead contamination.

In view of the submissions received and based on the experience gained by US experts on this issue, the State has developed a strategy to reduce environmental pollution by lead and prevent its adverse effects on human health. The strategy includes improvement of production technologies and methods of treatment of lead emissions into the air and wastewater of lead containing industries.

Other steps are processing of industrial and domestic waste containing lead, rehabilitation of areas contaminated with lead, and improving lead content control methods in the environment. Besides, the improvement of biological monitoring methods, implied preventive and curative measures to reduce the adverse effects of lead on human health was planned (Kessel & O’Connor, 2013). There were also educational and public awareness campaigns on the danger of lead pollution and measures to combat it. In order to implement the strategies, several projects were developed. The actions determined to reduce pollution of the environment by lead are the production and use of leaded gasoline; reduction in emissions of lead and its compounds of non-ferrous metallurgy, machine building, as well as glass and other industries. Projects include organization of recycling household and industrial batteries, complete cessation of the use of lead-containing materials in metal containers for food products, etc. As a result of the implementation of environmental projects new methods were applied for assessing lead hazards to children's health, and particularly monitoring the health of children that is rooted in the measurements of lead in blood Kessel & O’Connor, 2013).

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In addition, many states have implemented research projects aimed at determining the reliability of the use of standard quantitative psychometric tests for children of different ages (Centers for Disease Control, 2005). The problem of environmental pollution by lead is included as a priority in the National Environmental Health Action Plan. In accordance with the national strategy to reduce environmental pollution by lead and prevent its adverse effects on human health, the National Plan on Environment and Health Action carried out reconstruction of metallurgical plants and applied new technologies of cleaning the production of lead poisonous elements.

“Apolitical” Approach to the Issue

Among the governmental programs created to fight the problem of lead water poisoning there is an apolitical approach that is used to draw maximum attention to the existing problem. World-renowned environmental organizations emphasize the need to draw attention to the use of lead in production. These organizations provide water test results that show that the lead concentration in tap water in areas close to manufactures is constantly growing and requires additional donations to help people install tap water filters that would protect them from additional amounts of lead in the water they drink.

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It is known that most pollutants get into reservoirs through wastewater of large enterprises. Purification of water is one of the ways to solve the problem. Besides, it is one of the apolitical approaches, which includes ecological strategies and sources. Business owners need to attend to the installation of high-quality treatment facilities. The presence of such devices, of course, cannot completely stop the release of toxic substances, but it can significantly reduce their concentration. In addition, special domestic filters that will make the water cleaner inside people’s homes can combat pollution of drinking water supplies. Taking care of fresh water clean should be the leading aim of every person in the affected areas.

Compliance with a few simple rules will help significantly reduce the level of pollution of water. First and foremost, tap water should be used sparingly. People should avoid wasting the precious resource. Volunteers can clean the debris from the nearby ponds and beaches. The use of synthetic fertilizers should be prohibited. It is best to use organic waste, grass clippings, leaves, or compost as an alternative. People should properly dispose of the discharged waste. While the problem of water pollution currently reaches alarming proportions, it is possible to solve it. To do this, each person must make an effort and care for nature. However, there are many marginalized groups of people who live in poor areas and do not have access to clean water. They use tap water without any systems of cleaning. Some people do not even have houses with proper sanitary conditions which exacerbates the situation. The government knows about the situation, and there are some significant steps that are monitored by environmental organizations that can help the country fight the problem of lead water poisoning. The problem of lead poisoning has recently become extremely popular within the USA, however, the problem is international and the leading environmental organizations unite their powers to resolve the issue.

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The most problematic part of the above-mentioned approach is that most factories that use lead containing materials prefer to continue using it. Besides, they are not eager to donate the financial resources to society which makes it harder for environmental organizations and volunteers, as they have to make more claims and tell about the problem so that more people would decide to help and donate money for tap water filters that would protect people from excess lead in their drinking water.

Political Ecology Perspective

According to the decision of the UN General Assembly that took place in 2010 as well as the Council of Human Rights, the right for clean water and sanitation is a basic human right. This decision is of great importance to the world in general and to marginalized groups of people who are not able to provide themselves with minimum comfort conditions (Zimmerer & Bassett, 2012). This decision is aimed at providing the right for people to have access to safe and affordable water sources. Moreover, it obliges governments to take specific measures to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all. Currently, marginalized groups and people from poor areas in America experience a lack of access to clean water and affordable sanitation. The existing inequality is hidden, because people that have a higher level of income have necessary living conditions, while people that live in poor areas cannot afford basic sanitary conditions and water without lead in it. This demonstrates serious inequities within the country.

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Geographic inequality is caused by the fact that people living in rural or remote areas have a significantly lower level of access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. Limitations are associated with the availability as low-income people often consider water and sanitation unaffordable (Zimmerer & Bassett, 2012). The situation will be improved after the government will move towards full cost recovery for services provided in the area of water and sanitation. Inequalities are experienced by vulnerable and marginalized groups like Romany, immigrants, ethnic minorities, disabled people, etc. These people have to face additional barriers to access water and sanitation, compared to ordinary citizens. To achieve universal access to water and sanitation, it is necessary to pay special attention to solving the problem of inequality in its early stages. The introduction of such an approach becomes necessary, as businesses usually forget about these aspects. Equal access requires rethinking of policies on water and sanitation and the use of all possible options to ensure equity.

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One of the most effective political ecology approaches is political economy that requires one to build a plan of action for specific period of time within which all programs and actions would be realized. Political economy approach to the problem of water lead poisoning would refer to the following questions that will help in the process of determining the problem and finding the most effective solution to it. The first question includes finding the sources and reasons of water contamination with lead. The second question includes consolidation of resources and analyzing effectiveness of their application to the problem of marginalized people that are exposed to poisoning with water that contains lead. The next question refers to the general analysis of the economical perspective of the situation including harm caused by lead in water, damage to human health and costs for providing the necessary amount of tap water filters to people who cannot afford buying them.

Suggestions for Solutions to the Issue

Strategy developers, responsible for water and sanitation sector, are under pressure due to high expectations, demanding obligations, and limited financial resources. Solutions require an increase in investment and in many cases radical reforms in policies and governance frameworks. Equal access to clean water requires political and financial compromises. Certain groups are overlooked because of the high cost of the services, when helping turns out to be more expensive and difficult. The ecological organizations aim to provide these groups with access to water and sanitation eventually or integrate them in their initial strategy. The question also refers to the problem of society, as people also have to focus their action and make much effort to protect the whole population and protect the human right to water and sanitation.











People that are more affluent tend to enjoy better access to sanitation than the poor. In some countries, the gap is reduced due to an active implementation of ecological projects and government support. At the heart of the political ecology are three problems that are related to the production chain: the allocation of resources and their limitations, economic development and the impact on the environment, and the problem of pollution and waste. All three aspects are closely interrelated (Robbins, 2012). The main questions and problems that have to be solved by political ecology include finding a balance between economic development and protection of people from negative impact on the environment (Kessel & O’Connor, 2013). Besides, it can be effective to gather a group of researchers that would develop qualitatively new ways of enhancing economic development with minimum harm to the ecological system and limited usage of lead and its poisonous compounds.

Some of the results of current decisions include usage of pipes that do not contain lead in their structure. Most modern houses are equipped with non-metallic pipes, but still there are a lot of houses in which they use old pipes, which increase the amount of lead in the water. Projects carried out in recent years allowed to considerably reduce the lead content in the water (Katko, Juuti, & Schwartz, 2013). However, metal valves and pipes that connect homes to the main water pipe and domestic taps sometimes still aggravate the problem.

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Water lingering in the pipes and valves for several hours absorbs lead particles, which are formed as a result of corrosion of the pipe itself or seams therein. There are no more accurate ways to determine the level of lead in drinking water, but to check its chemical composition (Katko, Juuti, & Schwartz, 2013). The level of lead in the water cannot be determined by smell, and it is not possible to see the metal particles in the water, as they are microscopic. That is why in case there are concerns about water composition, a chemical test of tap water should be performed.

Marginalized groups of people cannot afford tap water tests and thus, put their life as well as their children’s health at stake. Another way to learn about the water structure is to ask the service that provides water. Both private and specialized governmental organizations should make such information available (Kessel & O’Connor, 2013). Public water services also consider this issue, and it became possible to get an answer to a question about the amount of lead in water. The risk of a lead overdose is not very large, but it is still very dangerous. Elevated levels of lead in blood can lead to some complications, even in adults (Robbins, 2012). Sick people and those with weakened immunity are also threatened by more health problems if their water is lead contaminated. Children are at an even greater risk than adults as their organisms absorb lead faster.

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In conclusion, lead poisoning of water developed historically and causes a lot of harm to people’s health. The most exposed groups of people include those living in rural areas with poor access to clean water and other sanitation facilities. The main questions of political ecology include development of economics while searching for ways to reduce the negative impact on water and ecology in general. The most effective solutions to the issue include reducing the amount of lead elements in water systems. Besides, people can use additional tap filters to provide themselves with cleaner water. However, it is evident that such simple measures for protection against lead in water are not available to the poorest members of society who live in rural areas and have low income.

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