Colson: Time again to ‘get the lead out’ |

Colson: Time again to ‘get the lead out’

with John Colson

There’s nothing more important to life than the availability of clean drinking water.

In a world where even the most commonplace declaration can be subject to controversy and derision, I think I’m on safe ground here.

Our bodies are more than 60 percent water, according to a website (, which goes on to note that our blood is 90 percent water, our brains and muscles are roughly 75 percent water, and even our bones are 22 percent water.

The website states that “the human body is a machine designed to run on water and minerals,” which leads me to black thoughts about all the days of my life that I’ve managed to get through without drinking a few glasses of cool, clear water to keep me going. I know how that has hurt me, and I suspect others have fared similarly.

So, let’s just acknowledge the importance of water to our continued existence, and the fact that we seem stupidly determined to ignore growing evidence that the water we pour down our gullets might well be laced with fatally or damaging toxic substances so heinous that we shrink from even thinking about it.

Proof is in the pudding (a water-intensive comestible, I hasten to note), and our most recent helping of filmy, gritty and bad-tasting pudding comes from Flint, Michigan, a city of slightly more than 100,000 souls located a quick drive to the northwest of Detroit.

A one-time fur trading and carriage-making center, it grew to fabled prominence starting in 1908 when it became the home of General Motors. The boom lasted until things started falling apart in the 1970s as deindustrialization, economic stagnation, “white flight” and other social ills grabbed the town by the heels and dragged it downward.

And now, of course, you can’t drink the water there without risking a galloping case of lead poisoning.

If that hasn’t got you checking the Flint real estate listings for a cheap deal on slum housing, well, you just aren’t a genuine American real-estate opportunist, are you?

But the fact that Flint’s water is poisoning children and other helpless residents there is not my main concern here.

No, my main point is, as it has been ever since this story first made headlines, that Flint is not alone. All over this country we have the same problem, and have had for decades, as our infrastructure crumbles deep beneath our feet and the pipes that carry water to our homes deteriorate and leach toxic chemicals.

Last weekend, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, penned a piece that goes along with my thinking, and I urge everyone to take a look at it, and then at the water coming out of the tap in the kitchen.

According to Kristof (who states that he got his data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention), Flint actually is low on the lead-poisoning spectrum, with about 4.9 percent of its children testing out with unacceptably high lead content in their blood.

The lead levels in rural New York was at 6.7 percent in 2014; in Pennsylvania it has reached 8.5 percent, and in western Detroit an astonishing 20 percent of kids tested had lead poisoning — that’s one kid in five, in case you’d rather not do the math.

Kristof cited CDC statistics indicating that more than a half-million children in this country, ages 1 through 5, suffer from lead poisoning, which can cause brain malformation and lead to violent and anti-social behavior later in life.

And we wonder why we are seeing a rising incidence of violence and shootings all across the land, by people who seem unnaturally angry about daily irritants that most of us simply shrug off, calling it life as usual. I think we need to look at lead poisoning as a possible cause, and I’m not talking about the kind of lead poisoning that results from being shot with a gun, although that certainly figures somehow into this equation.

Have you ever wondered about the condition of the water pipes leading to your home? Have you gone so far as to call your municipal government and ask somebody there whether there is any cause for concern?

Now might be a good time to do that.

One professor was quoted by Kristof as saying, “Lead poisoning continues to be a silent epidemic in the United States,” as it has been since regulators claimed success by getting the lead out of the paint used in our homes and the gasoline that powers our cars back in the previous century.

But in the years since those regulatory victories, Congress has defunded lead-detection and remediation programs at the CDC by more than half, and the lead industry continues to “ferociously” fight against regulatory efforts.

Naturally, this battle is kept fairly quiet, as most of the victims of this manageable but persistent plague are the poor and people of color.

We could fix this, but it would take money, and we know how that will go.

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