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Faye Flam

Don't Live in Flint? Lead Is Your Problem, Too

Cars, paint and pipes spread this toxin everywhere. Then we saw the danger. Now what?
Corrosive.

Corrosive.

Photographer: Sarah Rice/Getty Images

The crisis in Flint, Michigan has focused attention on lead-tainted water flowing through taps in the U.S. as well as lead paint exposures that continue to plague cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. While there’s skepticism surrounding recent claims that lead poisoning rates are higher in Philadelphia than in Flint, there’s no disputing that there’s a serious problem in both cities and many others.

The term “poisoning” is the source of some confusion. Since Flint switched to a more corrosive source of water in 2014, bringing lead from pipes into the drinking supply, some residents have reported rashes, hair loss, fatigue and other classic symptoms of lead poisoning. But scientists now believe that exposures too low to cause people to feel sick can do serious and possibly permanent neurological damage, especially in children.