News Feature | April 21, 2017

In East Chicago, Corrosion Control Efforts May Make Lead Problem Worse

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

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East Chicago, IN, has been using a chemical, sodium hexametaphosphate, in order to control corrosion in lead pipes. However, some experts think it could be doing more harm than good.

Records obtained by the Northwest Indiana Times, show that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) “approved the change in chemicals in May 2009, when it issued a permit for construction of the city’s new water filtration plant.”

However, sodium hexametaphosphate can actually increase lead release, according to Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Edwards said that “using sodium hexametaphosphate might have been worse than conducting no corrosion control at all.”

Edwards added that East Chicago’s plan before taking on sodium hexametaphosphate was not very strong either.

Lead in drinking water can be deadly to most and can be especially harmful for children. Since last summer, “18 out of 431 children tested have been confirmed to have blood lead levels above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 5 parts per million action level, according to data provided this month by the Indiana State Department of Health.”

The Northwest Indiana Times added that “Up to 20 percent of children in zone 1 of the East Chicago USS Lead Superfund site, where the most heavily contaminated soil across three residential cleanup areas was found, had preliminary or confirmed elevated blood lead levels between 2005 and 2015.”

Although having lead in water and then in soil is not related, residents who are introduced to both can still experience health risks.

For a time, educators in nearby Chicago struggled with new legislation that required both schools and daycare centers to test drinking water for lead contamination. Some held issues with the potential cost while others are challenging the overall value of the testing.

Earlier this year, the Illinois House of Representatives recently passed legislation requiring that lead testing take place in both schools and daycare centers.

Image credit: "Industrial landscape, East Chicago, Indiana" Digital Collections, UIC Library © 1972 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/