In the United States, we take clean water for granted. You turn on the tap and assume it's safe to drink, right? Well, we found that's not necessarily the case in our second episode of "Our America: Trouble on Tap."
Watch Episode 2 of "Our America: Trouble On Tap" in the video player above.
There are an estimated 6 to 10 million lead service lines in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those lead service lines are the pipes that brings water from the city's water supply into your house. The problem with those lines is lead can flake off the pipes and contaminate drinking water. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring clean air and water, there are more than 150 million people that are getting water from a utility that has detected lead in the water supply. Chicago alone has more than 400,000 lead service lines, more than any other city in the United States.
Lead is something you can't see, taste or smell, and it can't be boiled out of water. You can only tell if lead is in your water by having it tested by a lab to determine if it's over the 15-parts-per-billion action threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But everyone we talked to for this documentary echoed the same line.
"Today we know that there's no safe level of exposure to lead," said Dr. Maida Galvez, a pediatrician and public health specialist for Mt. Sinai. "Even low levels of exposure can permanently alter brain development and behavior. Those behaviors are wide ranging, including the attention deficit hyperactivity and behaviors that can lead to increased rates of incarceration in adults and youth."
We heard the same thing from the EPA, the NRDC, and even the White House.
Our friends at ABC News did a great explainer on how lead service lines became a modern-day public health crisis and you can watch that here.
But replacing all the lead pipes in the U.S. is easier said than done. As you'll see in Episode 2 of "Our America: Trouble on Tap," local and state leaders face enormous obstacles in replacing lead service lines from high costs, to local laws, to public distrust.
Episode 2 of "Our America: Trouble on Tap" takes a deep dive into the issue of lead service lines in America and the challenges we face in replacing them.
"We have heard every excuse in the book for why we can't pull out the lead pipes," said Erik Olson of the NRDC. "We saw it in Flint. We saw it in Newark, New Jersey. When they finally decided, okay, we admit we've got a problem. We're going to go out into the community and work and fix it."
"Our America: Trouble on Tap" is a three-part documentary series that looks at how environmental pollution, climate change and aging infrastructure are gradually eroding the ability for more and more communities across the United States to have access to free and potable drinking water. Over the last few decades, the safe and available drinking water that many Americans have taken for granted is now at risk. ABC Owned Television Stations, in partnership with ABC News and National Geographic, will take viewers across America to examine this emerging crisis and offer solutions along the way.
The first episode takes a look at per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination in North Carolina. We travel to Cape Fear, North Carolina, often referred to as ground zero for PFAS water contamination or water polluted by toxic "forever chemicals."
The second episode, "America's Lead Problem," explore the crisis of safe drinking water in this country and the solutions that are often tied up in bureaucratic red tape. More than 30 years after lead was banned as a plumbing material by the federal government, lead-based pipes are still carrying water to millions of homes across America, including Chicago which has one of the highest concentrations of lead pipes in the country. With an estimated 400,000 lead pipes delivering water to Chicago-area residents, "It's an $8 billion problem," according to Andrea Cheng, Chicago's water department commissioner. This episode examines the key issues of water infrastructure to explore whether bills such as Senator Cory Booker's Water Infrastructure Funding Act and others will help alleviate some of the financial strain on communities and truly help solve the many issues hitting residents, often in communities that are predominantly Black, Latino and Indigenous.
The third episode, "Drilling into California's Water Crisis," will premiere in October and focuses on the effects of drought in California. In late November 2022, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that nearly 85 percent of California was in severe drought conditions or higher. While the current drought conditions have changed due to recent winter 2023 precipitation, California continues to experience water emergencies throughout the state as resources continue to vary, based on current conditions. This episode takes viewers to Orosi, California, to check in with a family whose well has gone dry and see how they manage without access to water despite record rainfall. Plus, it'll dive into the future of water in California and how we can all contribute to the state's sustainability.
Watch "Our America: Trouble On Tap" wherever you stream: Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and Roku.