NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Health experts say water isn't the only place where people can be exposed to lead, and that could be a concern - especially for parents of young children.
The New Orleans inspector general has serious concerns about residents possibly being exposed to elevated levels of lead in their drinking water because of infrastructure projects that are under construction in the city. That work can disturb the water supply system, causing significant spikes in water lead levels.
"In our report you will see the Centers for Disease Control made an incredible statement. They said that the contribution of lead in drinking water to the distribution of intelligence in our society is considerable. Think about that: water determining whether people are smart or not," said New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux.
The medical director of the New Orleans Health Department responded to a scathing report released by the IG this week.
"It's important for people to know that the water in New Orleans is safe to drink and as the Sewerage & Water Board encounters these lead service lines they'll be notifying residents of that," said New Orleans Health Department Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter. "The lead is a problem in any old city, particularly in New Orleans, we're 300 years old. The most important thing to understand, for everyone to understand is that kids take in lead through a spectrum of sources, lead really is most dangerous to young children but the way that they get lead inside their body happens from water to a degree but also to a larger degree from soil and paint and these other sources."
Tulane toxicologist LuAnn White said the concentration in lead paint is much higher than soil and water. But, she says parents should be aware of all lead sources that children can be exposed to.
"For a child to be exposed, that lead, it needs to get into their body mostly likely eating, ingestion is the primary way, and hand in mouth. And we know that kids, when they play in soil, they put a little bit in their mouth, but they would have to eat pounds of it to be able to get a sufficient quantity, and they would have to do that every day for many years to build up a lead level," said White.
When it comes to lead in drinking water, White says parents should be aware and cautious especially if they have infants.
"Any time you have an infant, if you know there is any lead, it doesn't matter where it is, you want to prevent that exposure to the child. So, if there is any doubt you would not use any water that has a lead level, using bottled water as long as you're sure that bottled water source also doesn't have lead in it," said White.
The Office of Inspector General report points out that lead in drinking water can be the dominant source of exposure for infants consuming formula.
"As our report points out, less than 5 parts per million in 10 liters of water has been shown to have serious, adverse, permanent health effects," said Quatrevaux.
White says every child under 2 should be tested for lead at least once. And every child under 6 should also have been tested. This is especially important if you live or move into an older house or are having that house renovated because it could have lead paint inside. You can have that paint tested for lead by sending a sample to a lab. Or, you can even buy a home lead testing stick at home improvement stores. They won't tell you how much lead is in your paint but it will confirm whether it contains lead.