Under New York City, 6,800 miles of pipes carry more than 1 billion gallons of water
from distant reservoirs to city faucets every day.
Most of those pipes are made out of iron and steel,
but some of them are still made out of lead.
It’s really easy stuff to make pipes out of but it’s also toxic for humans.
The city has made a lot of progress in reducing the number of lead pipes.
But they still exist,
and they can be a big problem for people living here.
A lot of us here at the Verge live in New York City
and some of us live in buildings
where lead might still be a problem.
So we’re going to find out,
why leading water is such bad news,
and what it takes to find out if you are being exposed.
The first one though that’s suspect.
I think what made Flint so alarming
is that we have laws to protect us from lead and those laws were broken.
And folks were told
their water was safe across the city where it was not
That’s Marc Edwards,
a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech
He helped bring the issues of drinking water
in Flint Michigan to national attention in 2014.
The EPA had everything to do with creating Flint
In Flint this all started when the city switched water suppliers as a cost-saving measure.
起初 弗林特市为了节省开支 更换了自来水公司
The new water was more corrosive,
and as it passed into people’s homes, it ate away at the lead pipes and solder
putting lead into the water supply.
Flint is currently in the last legs of an effort
to replace all of the lead service lines in the city
which should be done by the middle of 2019
But while Flint got hit the most dramatically
other cities also have this problem.
The water quality of New York City’s water supply is a point of pride
for the city’s 8.6 million residents.
And for most of them their water is just fine
even after traveling thousands of miles through pipes.
But sometimes even clean New York City water
can start corroding lead piping just like what happened in Flint.
Most of the distribution pipes have been updated,
but in a city as big as New York, some things fall through the cracks.
And regulation doesn’t cover every case.
According to federal law,
a given area isn’t considered unsafe
until more than 10 percent of residential water samples
test above the EPA’s recommended lead levels.
That threshold hasn’t been met in New York,
but even a small percentage
can still mean a lot of affected buildings,
which leaves residents to just wonder
The real problem with lead is
it’s a shared responsibility model,
meaning the water company can’t get the lead out of your house.
In a city like New York
5 percent of the homes probably have some pretty dangerous levels of lead
and it’s up to you as the consumer to try to figure that out.
So if it’s on us to figure it all out, let’s try it.
[jazz piano music]
First we put out a call to colleagues and friends
who might have at-risk water
We focused on areas that the government has flagged as higher risk
A recent study warned against the smaller older buildings
especially those built in the 1920s and 1930s.
Lead pipes and soldering weren’t banned until 1986.
So housing much newer than that could be suspect, too.
A couple of our samples came from the Bedford-Stuyvesant and river build neighborhoods
which the study specifically call that
Finding leading drinking water is tricky
because old buildings could had their pipes replaced.
So it’s hard to predict whether yours is at risk.
Plus water laden with lead can look smell and taste
况且含铅的水不论是看 闻 喝
exactly the same as water without the metal.
So contamination is rarely obvious.
But tests are available.
We’re starting out with a test
that doesn’t actually measure the amount of lead
just whether or not it’s present.
But that will give us a better idea of where to look.
Really any amount is scary
because lead sticks around once it gets into the body,
It builds up in people’s bones over time.
And it can affect the brain nervous system and kidneys.
It is particularly dangerous to children because they’re smaller.
So smaller amounts can dramatically impact their development,
lead adversely affects every organ system of human body.
It’s particularly bad for young children, developing fetuses, pregnant mothers.
That will mess you up.
But it’s not going to get into your skin,
which is why experts recommend you test at a kitchen sink and not your shower.
Of the eight tests we did, one looked like a definite yes for lead.
That water came from friends living in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
A few others were inconclusive.
We really couldn’t tell whether they were positive or negative.
We decided to retest our sample from Bed-Stuy and another maybe using a fancier test.
For this one you send the sample off to an outside lab
and get more details and results back.
We weren’t there for the collection.
so we asked our friends to film it on their phones for us
The samples we’re using for this test are called first draw,
meaning you collect the water first thing in the morning
after it’s been sitting undisturbed in your pipes all night.
That’ll tell you the most about the lead content in your building’s pipes.
If you wanted to test the pipes leading to your building,
you’d flush your own pipes first by running your tap for 30 seconds.
We sent both samples out and we waited.
In the meantime we learned something concerning,
Marc Edwards has been studying all of the available at-home test kits,
like the while-you-wait test we used.
And his early results are not promising.
I think I can tell you right now
that I would not use those tests with confidence,
that they do have an error rate.
And that many times when you use them
you could have high lead in that sample and it will tell you your water’s safe.
The lab tests are more safe,
but they only tell you how much lead is in your water at that one moment in time.
So even if you get a low test result,
if you have lead pipes, lead could easily break off
and enter your water supply in the future.
And what good is testing?
How frequently are you going to get a low sample one time
and fool yourself into thinking your water’s safe?
In those cases especially if you’re vulnerable
and you want to protect yourself against that lead,
we know that one test is not adequate anymore.
So the question is is it even worth it to test?
Should you just assume it’s unsafe?
Should you test it five times 10 times?
At what point can you have confidence?
It’s a real can of worms.
So it’s hard to know
what lessons we should even learn from our tests.
And as an added twist the lab results came back with a surprise for us.
Both tests were basically negative
are maybe sample contained lead at a very low one part per billion
and our positive sample had no measurable lead at all.
We were pretty surprised so we called the lab back.
This is a little bit strange
because when we did this test
with some initial kind of while-you-wait tests,
it came back with kind of a positive result
that showed that lead was there.
Why might that have happened?
We often call these test strips ‘random color generators’,
because we have done our best to make sense of them ourselves,
and often times they seem completely arbitrary in what they produce.
There are false positives and there are also false negatives.
The lead can possibly hide from the strip.
What kind of advice would you give for someone
who found one part per billion in their water?
My recommendation to anyone who detects lead in their water is
to assume that it could be much worse than actually detected right?
Because it could be 6:30 on a Monday that you took the sample,
but for whatever kind of local reasons are defining your personal local environment
maybe on Wednesdays the lead is much more exposed
and so you have 10 part per billion.
So always assume the worst You have nothing to lose.
Buying these treatment products is fairly inexpensive
and easy to do and they give you a great sense of security.
For the record a $30 water filter
is cheaper than the lab test we bought.
So in lots of scenarios
that may be the best option for dealing with suspect water.
The takeaway from all of this is that the problem will not go away on its own.
So as long as we have any lead infrastructure,
we’re going to keep wondering.
Hey everyone Thanks for watching episode two of Trial and Error.
We did let everyone know the results of the tests.
and hopefully our friend in Kensington
will get a water filter or take more tests.
to figure out where the lead is coming from.
If you like this video, be sure to check out the others on our channel
and don’t forget to like and subscribe.
Under New York City, 6,800 miles of pipes carry more than 1 billion gallons of water