Lead in Drinking Water

Lead in Drinking Water
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What happened in Flint Michigan, how was it discovered, and how many more Flints are there?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Back in the 60s, a Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist described the problem of childhood lead poisoning as “so well defined, so neatly packaged with both causes and cures known, that if we don’t eliminate this social crime, our society deserves all the disasters [it has coming].”

Well, “[w]e have the knowledge to redress this social crime. We know where the lead is, how people are exposed, and how it damages health. What we lack is the political will to do what should be done.” Unfortunately, “many policy makers consider the costs of action primarily in economic and financial terms and ignore the costs of inaction on human health and communities’ livelihoods.”

“At this point, most Americans have heard of the avoidable and abject failure of government on the local, state, [and] federal level[s]”–in fact, across the board, “to prevent the mass poisoning of hundreds of children and adults in Flint, Michigan.”

“A government plan to save [some] money had led public officials to switch the city’s water source from [one of the great lakes] to the Flint River,” the [past] sewer [of] the auto industry.” “Flint citizens…complained that their tap water was foul and discolored. But…officials took no heed.” I wonder why.

“[O]fficials failed to act…for eighteen months until a local pediatrician revealed dramatically elevated lead levels in children’s blood.” An investigation didn’t just find fault, but highlighted seeming falsification of “water-quality results” to keep people in the dark.

Though “the specific breed of alleged government corruption” may be “unique” to Flint, “the end result might not be so rare in the USA—home to an ageing water system.” As the president of the Children’s Health Fund has said, “Pandora’s box is now wide open.” Flint may be “only the tip of an enormous iceberg,” potentially “one of a great many icebergs.”

In addition to lead paint and the residual lead everywhere from leaded gasoline, lead can leach from “lead pipes,…solder, or…fixtures.” Recognized to be a health issue in the U.S. back in 1845, a year our flag only had 26 stars; yet, “[t]he use of lead in water pipes and solder was not restricted until the…Safe Drinking Water Act Amendment,” 141 years later. Was the city you’re living in built before 1986? Today, “[t]he exact number of lead water pipes currently in use is not clear.” About one in three cities surveyed shrugged their shoulders.

There are anti-corrosion chemicals you can add to tap water to try to keep the lead in the pipes. Flint could have done that, but it could have cost about $100 a day. Now, they only have to pay a billion dollars.

Let me close with a quote from the heroic pediatrician who blew the whistle, Dr. Hanna-Attisha. She was asked “What advice would you have for other physicians taking on a whistle-blower role?” She replied, “This is our job. This is why we went to medical school—to help people.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: r. nial bradshaw via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Back in the 60s, a Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist described the problem of childhood lead poisoning as “so well defined, so neatly packaged with both causes and cures known, that if we don’t eliminate this social crime, our society deserves all the disasters [it has coming].”

Well, “[w]e have the knowledge to redress this social crime. We know where the lead is, how people are exposed, and how it damages health. What we lack is the political will to do what should be done.” Unfortunately, “many policy makers consider the costs of action primarily in economic and financial terms and ignore the costs of inaction on human health and communities’ livelihoods.”

“At this point, most Americans have heard of the avoidable and abject failure of government on the local, state, [and] federal level[s]”–in fact, across the board, “to prevent the mass poisoning of hundreds of children and adults in Flint, Michigan.”

“A government plan to save [some] money had led public officials to switch the city’s water source from [one of the great lakes] to the Flint River,” the [past] sewer [of] the auto industry.” “Flint citizens…complained that their tap water was foul and discolored. But…officials took no heed.” I wonder why.

“[O]fficials failed to act…for eighteen months until a local pediatrician revealed dramatically elevated lead levels in children’s blood.” An investigation didn’t just find fault, but highlighted seeming falsification of “water-quality results” to keep people in the dark.

Though “the specific breed of alleged government corruption” may be “unique” to Flint, “the end result might not be so rare in the USA—home to an ageing water system.” As the president of the Children’s Health Fund has said, “Pandora’s box is now wide open.” Flint may be “only the tip of an enormous iceberg,” potentially “one of a great many icebergs.”

In addition to lead paint and the residual lead everywhere from leaded gasoline, lead can leach from “lead pipes,…solder, or…fixtures.” Recognized to be a health issue in the U.S. back in 1845, a year our flag only had 26 stars; yet, “[t]he use of lead in water pipes and solder was not restricted until the…Safe Drinking Water Act Amendment,” 141 years later. Was the city you’re living in built before 1986? Today, “[t]he exact number of lead water pipes currently in use is not clear.” About one in three cities surveyed shrugged their shoulders.

There are anti-corrosion chemicals you can add to tap water to try to keep the lead in the pipes. Flint could have done that, but it could have cost about $100 a day. Now, they only have to pay a billion dollars.

Let me close with a quote from the heroic pediatrician who blew the whistle, Dr. Hanna-Attisha. She was asked “What advice would you have for other physicians taking on a whistle-blower role?” She replied, “This is our job. This is why we went to medical school—to help people.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: r. nial bradshaw via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Doctor's Note

Wasn’t there lead in paint too, for the longest time? Yes, that’s the subject of my last video: How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away With It. And, what about leaded gasoline? How many of you remember going to the pumps and seeing the choice between leaded and unleaded? That’s the subject of my next video, How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away With It.

Then, I get into what the effects are and what we can do about it. Stay tuned for:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

44 responses to “Lead in Drinking Water

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  1. Sadly, part of the glacial pace of action on dark colored water in Flint was almost certainly the dark color of the citizens affected. But that is but one of the more egregious examples.

    In general the political discourse has become dominated by considerations of costs while never considering the costs of doing nothing. Whether it is our air, water or food, our current course is not rational. The cost of disrupting meat, dairy, fish, egg and donut industries is high but instead of destruction it could be reoriented with major net benefits. Against that is the cost of an obese parent enculturating children to eat the same way and perpetuating astronomical health care costs with monumental human misery, shortened lifespan, and loss of economic productivity. Oh well; the greasy pizza business with thrive.

    Just don’t drink the water when visiting the US!




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    1. Hello Stuart,
      You make an excellent point regarding the easy to connect assumption that protection of our most vulnerable citizens are often derailed by factors such as racisim. I had the opportunity to hear a heroic researcher keynote at a conference last Fall and he described his own role in the Flint water crisis. An academic from Virginia, he funded from his own pocket research studies which confirmed the levels of lead in the water supply. His description of negotiations with the EPA were frightening.

      Another consideration is the privatization of the water supply in this country. Water has long been considered a public right; we pay taxes for our municipal water system, turn on the tap and have an expectation that pure, clean water will flow. But now, in many cities, we can only be assured of pure, clean water if we buy bottled water owned by Coca Cola, Nestle, or another huge corporation. What happened to our right to clean water? Very upsetting.

      In my opinion, history shows change is driven by heroic action on the part of individuals who are willing to put their careers on the line and do the right thing. As our national moral compass continues to tarnish, we can all benefit by finding and lifting up heroes who do the right thing.

      Like Dr. Greger.

      –Lisa




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      1. Stewart E. and Lisa –
        Your comments remind me of that simple old truism – “When the people lead, the leaders will follow”. Sometimes it takes a while.




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  2. If you visit American city,
    You will find it very pretty.
    Just two things of which you must beware:
    Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air!

    Pollution, pollution!
    They got smog and sewage and mud.
    Turn on your tap
    And get hot and cold running crud!




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    1. Just go out for a breath of air
      and you’ll be ready for Medicare.

      I think it was a song in a short film ca. 1970. Right?

      Fish gotta swim
      And birds gotta fly.
      But they won’t last long
      if they try.

      Pollution pollution!
      You can use the latest toothpaste
      Then rinse your mouth
      With industrial waste.




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  3. Are the
    big AGRO farms, even the organic ones, testing for lead in the water THEY use to grow OUR food?

    What about all the lead in the water that grows our food, our vegan food? The irrigation systems, pipes, etc. in the central valley, california,
    and elsewhere in the world. Vegetarian diets tend to be very full of water inside the food……..i wonder how big an issue this really is.




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  4. And mercury problems is even more serious and alarming since this heavy metal is even more toxic and is in the mouth of most peoples…




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  5. Vitally important topic. Too bad the video quality isnt up to speed on this dvd either. Havent shared a video yet in 2017. The acknowledgements section has been left blank but it appears the similar style as on the previous dvd – the title page of the paper ripped away too quickly, quotes shown mid-page away from title and not enlarged. New and not improved.. unfortunate.




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    1. All that nagging and nit picking all the time about the format. The information is conveyed, 4 minutes and i know more about lead in the us then ever before.

      I don’t know what you expect? – As a programmer and designer myself I would ask you to give more in depth information about what you expect, they cannot build it if you only point out what you don’t like but not what you desire. How would you do it?

      Grüße, T




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      1. Well Tahnour, examples of terrific videos have been posted along with critiques since January. Dr Greger and team asked for feedback. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/oxygenating-blood-with-nitrate-rich-vegetables/ here is one example of a well done video. Back in January (?) an instructor of videography gave in depth detailed concise minute by minute critiques of the styles being tried and offered to assist NF. For those of us who have enjoyed watching NF vids for years, its frustrating to see something that wasnt broken, being ‘fixed’.

        The title of the paper should remain in view, and quotes, when used brought up under the title and enlarged a bit if possible. page turning can be a bit slower , and need not turn to the page of the quote. The example I posted illustrates this well.




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        1. I agree that the old style is simpler and clearer and easier to follow. I do not see the benefit of all the zooming and panning to specific pages or sections of the study’s report. What matters is that we can clearly see the section being discussed and the title of the source document/report. And the video you site, done in the older style, does that very well. Zooming and moving all over the report is pointless and only distracts from the discussion.




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        2. * March 17 I think was the start of the experiment. And yes Tahnour, I agree, the information provided at this site is life altering, if not life saving and the work here deserves our full support.




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    2. LouAnne: You can always hit the pause button or back it up. I do it all the time. With the old and new videos. It’s always worked well for me. Personally, I love the new video formats just as much as the old ones. The information is always great!




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  6. Hello Nick,
    I am a family physician and volunteer moderator for this website. I just spent almost an hour doing a quick search in PubMed using the search strategy “lead in food”. There were over 23,000 articles. My assessment after scanning about 20 articles or abstracts is:
    1) lead contamination is literally everywhere, including in vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and legumes.
    2) the recent publications from Western countries, including Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US did not show any instances of lead levels in food above the legal limits.
    3) however, there are multiple reports of foods with elevated lead levels from around the world, including spices bought in a market in Tbilisi, Georgia, vegetables sold in Bangladesh, manioc flour from the Brazilian Amazon, various foods from a coal-mining area in China, dark chocolate from Brazil, wheat flour from Albania contaminated by metallic lead used to repair a millstone, etc.
    Here is the most recent review article I could find on lead in food in the US, from 1974: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1475136/pdf/envhper00497-0066.pdf
    It examined the contribution of all major food groups to lead exposure in both children and adults, and found that meat/fish contributed the most to lead exposure in adults, and milk was worst for children — due in part to using canned milk. However, cereals were not too far behind. None of them exceeded FDA limits, for what that’s worth.

    To me, the take-home message is that ALL foods contain some lead. You need to be aware of where your food comes from; severe cases of lead contamination in the Western world are not common.

    Lead in water is also a concern, as Dr. G. points out. My advice to minimize exposure to lead in drinking water is to drink filtered water. I use a fairly inexpensive faucet-mount filter, which removes 98-99% of lead.

    I hope this helps.




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    1. Thank you Dr Jon for your informative and detailed reply! We live on a farm that uses well water. We have it tested every so often, but I will check into water filters too .




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    1. Hi Claudia,

      Please see my response below to Taylor’s question. You can do your own research through Consumer Reports or CSPI to find some reliable information on water filtration systems. I also LOVE the Environmental Working Group for insight on all things chemical. Their guide to water filters is comprehensive and sensible.

      Thank you for being part of our community!

      Lisa Schmidt
      THE Mindful Nutritionist
      Volunteer Moderator




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  7. Do you still recommend drinking tap water and not going with some thing like distillation? Even if you look at all of the studies and tests done on local tap water you can’t get a clear picture if the water is safe to drink everywhere, or if it is it will continue to be in the future.




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    1. Hello Taylor,

      I have long relied on the Center for Science in the Public Interest as a source of reliable information. I found their examination of water filters to be a helpful guide to making a choice for yourself.

      Thanks for being part of our community!

      Lisa Schmidt
      THE Mindful Nutritionist
      Scottsdale, Arizona




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  8. There is a pretty good argument to send a sample of your tap water out to get tested. I sent a sample of tap water and tap water from our under sink filter system. Our water was pretty clean. No Lead, no Fluoride, but the filter did remove the Sulfur among other things and it dramatically reduced the dissolved solids in general. About $60 per sample to test your water at the place I used.




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    1. Thanks for your question.

      After searching some databases for a while, I could not find any specific recommendations for the problem described. Is there any chance you could specify a bit more? & then I can try find some information for you.




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  9. As Dr. G says in the video “we lack the political will to do what is right”, the politicians will take no action that would jeopardize in any way their prospects of being re-elected allowing them to hold onto their lifestyle and job. Not sure what the solution might be, term limits possibly. The current arrangement certainly doesn’t serve the interests of “We the People” that’s for certain. It’s serious when poisoning and other diseases are the outcome.




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    1. Has nothing to do with Will. Has everything to do with the conflicts of interest$ between those elected and their financial partners (mega corp inc) that run the world (appears the govt’s are their collective lackies). The companies are bigger than our government, have infiltrated all the regulatory services, and wear the PANTS in this modern world.

      Any doubt in this might be shaken by reviewing our most recent previous First Lady’s attempt to improve nutrition in this country (USA). She started out talking about food. Then a very short while later the message became about exercise. What happened?! She made the big FoodTypeProduct makers nervous and they pushed some buttons and shut her up.

      THAT is how insidious Greed is and what the Companies have become. Maybe there’s a video here on it.

      Didn’t find the one I was looking for, but this one gives a glimpse of who shut down her attempt to improve the health of this country: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dietary-guidelines-pushback-from-the-sugar-salt-and-meat-industries/




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  10. Every new administration announces a plan to make a plan for investments in infrastructure, they get elected and there’s nothing forthcoming. Rachel Maddow practically swooned over Obama’s promises, and now Trump (probably sitting on the end of his bed, tweeting) has apparently uttered the thought. The first guy did nothing (his current job of speech giving is pretty lucrative, though), while the second guy seems to lack a sense of steady vision (or am I fooled?) on which we might count.

    I remember watching LBJ, on television, standing in front of the Bureau of Census grand tote board, announcing the country’s welcome to its 200,000,000th citizen. That was around 1967. Forty years later, there are some 330 million of us…and no new sewers, water treatment plants, mass transportation, and the rest of those services thought vital to a decent life. The only thing that’s kept pace (and expanded greatly) are prisons.

    Unlike Japan, China or Europe which had suffered wars fought on their own territory, in the 20th century, requiring completely new infrastructure, we have been blessed with thousands of miles of ocean between ourselves and such harm. And the payoff? The government has done nothing.

    Maybe someone should say something.




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  11. I’ve lived in Michigan all of my life. Back in 1998, I was living about an hour south of Flint and during this time, I had begun working with an environmental medicine physician to troubleshoot some of my health issues. My blood work revealed I had high levels of arsenic! I did some chelation work and I began feeling better, along with a host of other, therapeutic nutritional protocols. My past physician had done her own studies of the water in that area and found it had high lead, arsenic, and mercury. This was well water, by the way. I currently live where my water supply is from the city of Detroit and I don’t drink or cook with it. I can smell the chlorine wafting off it during my showers and need a filtration system. All of these chemicals in our water and soil are horrible! I feel challenged by fluoride in my water too. My heart hurts for the children of Flint especially. I wonder how their developing brains will do after the lead exposure. So sad that I have no words!




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  12. Wanted to see if Dr. Gregor is excepting new Patients from out of state.? I have been 80% Plant Based with Type 2 Diabetes and my Glucose Levels are still not low enough to get off my Metformin. I need some advise. We do not have a lot of great research here in Arkansas.




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    1. Hi Marion. DC is a long way to go for a doctor visit but I can understand thinking it might be worthwhile.
      I would suggest another option to begin with. http://masteringdiabetes.teachable.com They have a series of some 20 lectures, including one by Dr Greger, all on the science of diabetes. In general I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the presentations. The quality of the videos is not particularly high be what is said is gold. Additionally they have numerous associated videos that can be very instructive. I would also read Neal Bernard’s How to reverse diabetes.

      The two guys who started Masteringdiabetes are both T1 diabetics and Cyrus got his PhD in nutritional biochemistry to help him address the condition. Even though they are T1 they try to bring in all aspects of what is necessary to transform your diseased self into a healthy self for both T1 and T2.

      As a T1 diabetic myself, I have studied intensely and am well aware of the importance of eating high carb, high fiber, low fat and low protein to achieve good insulin sensitivity. With a variant of the standard American diet I did fairly well with a daily insulin usage around 46 units. Now it is at 36 and I consume more carbs but much less fat and protein.

      If you are still eating animal then you are consuming proteins and staturated fats that will elevate your insulin resistance,, no question about it. Also the TMAO and dietary advance glycation end products derived from animal will also cause insulin resistance.

      The absolute prohibition of animal products to me is essential to accomplish your goal of becoming healthy and it also means that weight reduction and control with be much easier.

      Best of luck with your quest.




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  13. Hello,
    I just wanted to point out that this video isn’t fitting the screen properly! FYI! IF anyone form the website gets this.

    -Thanks for the awesome info!




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  14. So, I know this comment is off topic but I am vegan and am curious if anyone else has had the same issue I’ve had:
    I’ve been vegan for three years – went vegan originally to cure my severe IBS but the IBS symptoms did not diminish until I went on a fully raw, low fat vegan diet. My digestion is still very weak during this recovery phase so I cannot incorporate much variety and eating too much volume or too much fat also results in severe gastric distress. As a result, I’ve lost a lot of weight and I also lost my period (amenorrhea) and I’m concerned about the effects period loss will have on my body. I was anorexic for many years and didn’t have my period very often growing up so I know it can have some health consequences.

    My question is whether anyone else has experienced amenorrhea when they’ve switched to veganism and whether anyone has any tips for getting the cycle back. It’s frustrating to research this issue online because most people recommend reintroducing animal products, which I would never do.




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    1. @Emily: I’ve read that women lose their period on a raw diet because they are not getting enough calories. Losing your period is a serious condition that must be addressed. The problem is, it is hard even for people with healthy guts to get enough calories on a raw diet that is also low fat.

      I think you are right on target with the ideas of eating a low fat whole plant food based diet, but I wonder why you think the food has to be raw. What if you kept it low fat and whole plant foods, but also slowly started incorporating lentils and intact grains? Also, maybe some whole grain pasta? Those foods are very healthy and low fat *and* are higher calorie density than you would get from most low fat, raw foods. Incorporating cooked starches into your diet (ie, higher calorie density) would allow you to get more calories with less food volume. Dried fruit is also higher calorie density compared to fresh raw fruit. Just an idea for you.




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    2. Emily,

      First I’m hoping that your physician has done some basic testing, such as a CBC/metabolic panel/Vitamin D/methylmalonic acid/folate and an iron panel. I have found that most of the patients who are in your situation are needing additional digestive enzymes. You can find vegetarian combination products as well as using HCL with your meals. Additionally supplementation of a number of nutrients might be a consideration. I’m of the opinion that one should do some checking before just taking a number of nutrients blindly.

      Your solution will not necessarily have anything to do with meat products so…. get a check up, consider supplementation as needed and continue with a WFPB diet and you should be able to reestablish your cycle.

      Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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  15. What eco-friendly filters does Dr. G recommend for removing contaminants? What does he think of coconut shell-based carbon filters?

    This is an important concern for all of us devotees of your website–and rather than each of us taking the time to pour through that EWG and other guides, it would be very helpful if your staff could do that and come up with some recommendations for eco-friendly filters that remove contaminants.

    That EWG guide is cumbersome (TMI, for the average Harriet) and, most importantly, was last updated in early 2013.




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