Is lead in water a concern in Spokane? - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Is lead in water a concern in Spokane?

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

In Tacoma, the water on tap at some schools is so contaminated by lead, they had to hand out bottled water Monday. Meantime in Seattle, old pipes have the public utility company warning customers not to drink out of the tap directly - they need to let it run for at least 15 seconds, to flush out any lead build-up.

But what about here? While there have been no recent findings of unhealthy lead levels in Spokane’s public water supply - a new map developed by the Washington State Department of Health shows overall risk of lead exposure is dangerously high for the entire metro area.

"We’re talking about environmental lead exposure, the kind that happens with exposure to lead-based paint and dust in Spokane’s older homes," Spokane Regional Health District Public Information Officer Kim Papich added.  

Making matters worse: the state hasn’t been doing enough to monitor for problems. Critical checks on lead levels in some our most vulnerable children haven’t been done on a regular basis, if they’re done at all. Papich says our community, and the state, could be doing better. 

"The effects of lead can't be reversed," says Anna Halloran, an epidemiologist in Spokane. 

In Washington state, kids under the age of six, who are insured with Medicaid are required by the Healthcare Authority to be screened for lead poisoning, but that isn't happening.   

"It's not okay. It really bothers me," says Heather Hills, a mother of 3.  Hills has her children insured through Medicaid.  She lives in an apartment on the North side of town and isn't sure how old it is or if it has lead paint or pipes.   

"It's just not something I thought we'd have to worry about in these times of our lives," says Hills.  She didn't even realize that lead poisoning screenings were something the state was supposed to be doing.   "My kids get sick then that's a lot of stuff I now have to deal with that I wouldn't have to deal with otherwise." 

It's not only sickness that's a risk.  Lead poisoning can have lifelong effects, which especially young children are most at risk of.   

"It can cause cognitive and developmental delays," says Halloran.  "It can affect IQ, it can affect the ability to pay attention." 

The state isn't even required to test all children, just the ones who might be most at risk.  Those children who are low income, or live in homes that are built pre 1978.  Also considered at risk are kids who have a sibling or playmate who has been diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels in case they had a similar exposure, and children coming from a foreign country.    

Yet Washington remains one of the worst states for following through on that requirement. 

"No blood lead level is safe," Halloran tells KHQ.  "We in general can be doing a better job as a community and as a state in screening our children for lead."

Hills, however doesn't plan to wait for the state to improve.   

"My kids' health is at risk now," says Hills.  "I'm going to take my kids to the doctor and I'm going to have them tested."

Up until now only about 3% of kids in Washington were getting their mandated lead screening.  There is hope that a legal settlement reached earlier this year will improve access and funding for more families in need of a lead assessment.  

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