Audit Of Allegheny Co. Health Dept. Announced Regarding Blood Lead Levels

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced an audit of the Allegheny County Health Department regarding data on blood lead levels.

“There still is an effort to claim that we don’t have a crisis,” she said.

The announcement came an hour after the health department reiterated great strides are being made.

“Exposure to lead can be very harmful to children. In particular it impacts the neurologic system, and can impact further learning disabilities as time goes on,” Dr. Karen Hacker said.

After the problems in Flint, pediatricians have been vigilant about watching for a spike in Pittsburgh.

“I am even more hyper-aware than usual, but I have not seen an uptick in elevated lead levels,” Children’s Hospital Dr. Deborah Moss said.

The county health department is most concerned with levels above reference level of 10 micrograms per deciliter.

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“I doubt if you can get 10 just with the kind of water issues that we have here or even in Flint. It’s really hard to do that. Kids really can just only drink so much water,” Environmental Toxicologist Dr. Bernard Goldstein said.

Instead, doctors believe paint containing lead found in older homes is a bigger culprit.

“A crack in the wall which seemed minor, teeth marks on a doorjamb by a toddler, outdoor house paint that was blowing lead into a backyard of a play area of a young child, were all identified in children that I know,” Hilltop Community Healthcare Dr. Amy Nevin said.

Still, Wagner is concerned about the water.

“This should be a very fast audit, where they can show us their methodology, how they are evaluating blood lead levels and how — or if — they are really looking to whether water is a source,” she said.

Melissa Wade of the Allegheny County Health Department said the department has been audited many times and will cooperate fully.


One Comment

  1. Thank you to Chelsa Wagner for taking the lead in water exposure in Pittsburgh seriously. As for Doctors Karen Hacker, Deborah Moss and Amy Nevin, I would ask you to tell the public what expert credentials you have in the area of lead in water corrosion control, lead in water exposure and knowledge of or experience with the Safe Drinking Water Act or the Lead and Copper Rule?

    The peer reviewed science and experience in Washington, DC and Flint, MI, show that communities with lead service lines and lead bearing premise plumbing are creating substantial health risks for many in our communities across the country, including in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

    Your look at the blood lead data that you have does not paint a real picture of the exposure and health harm that has happened and is happening in the community. Lead has a 26 day half life in the blood stream and then it is resident in the bones and tissues. According to USEPA, developing fetuses and reconstituted formula fed babies are exposed to lead primarily through water. This vulnerable population is irreparably harmed when exposure occurs. Since their blood leads are not tested until one or two years of age the lead is already out of their blood and the harm goes undetected.

    Secondly, the lead in water single draw tests by PWSA are a very good indicator of lead at the tap at the moment the test is taken. But the science shows that a home whose test results show a non-detect or low number of parts per billion (ppb) of lead now can have numbers in the tens, hundreds and thousands of ppb in an hour, the next day, week, or month. Lead at the tap is inherently variable, random and erratic due to factors such as fluctuating temperature, stagnation time, physical disruption (such as construction or de-construction, road work, heavy trucks or busses going over or near lead bearing pipes), partial lead service line replacement and the list goes on and on.

    A CDC peer reviewed study shows that one is twice as likely to have an elevated blood lead if only part of the lead pipe is swapped out vs. leaving the lead pipe in the ground. Further it demonstrates that one is four times as likely to have an elevated blood lead if only part of the lead service line is swapped out vs. the full lead line.

    There is not an iota of a doubt about this science. During periods of high lead in Washington DC and in Flint, MI the water utilities did not exceed the 15 ppb 90th percentile Lead Action Level set by the Lead and Copper Rule, yet blood lead levels were elevated at the population level. In DC, according to a nationally award winning, peer reviewed retrospective paper written by Dr. Dana Best of National Children’s Hospital Center and Dr. Marc Edwards, VA Tech, DC suffered 200 more fetal deaths than normal, some 2,000 more unborn children and between 800 and 42,000 kids across the city got elevated blood leads.

    Once again, please tell me and the people of Pittsburgh what peer reviewed papers and science you are referring to? What are your credentials in this regard? Have you ever even read the current weak Lead and Copper Rule?

    You may know a lot about lead exposure from paint, soil and dust but I would venture to say you know next to nothing about lead in water other than the canards and tropes that are so common among the medical and public health community across the nation. This ignorance and supercilious pronouncements that the exposure to lead in water in Pittsburgh is some figment of imagination and hysteria is belied by the reality of thousands of partial and intact lead service lines throughout the County and the large numbers of homes with lead bearing premise plumbing. Shame on you for your scientific incuriosity and your lack of a precautionary ethic.

    It is time for you to go back to school and to learn the facts and follow the science so that we can protect our families and neighbors, make good public policy, target our dollars and mitigate the exposure and damage already done.

    In solidarity with the people of Pittsburgh,

    Paul Schwartz
    Campaign for Lead Free Water
    Organizing Committee Member
    Washington, DC
    (202) 279-0438

Comments are closed.

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