Lead Poisoning Is Still a Huge Problem, But There Could Be a Quick Fix


Zapping water with electricity could save
your life. Not something you thought we’d ever say? We’re shocked, too. By introducing an electric current into lead
pipes filled with a harmless phosphate solution researchers at UC Berkeley were able to rapidly
form a protective coating around corroded lead pipes, reducing leaching of this toxic
element by roughly 99%. Lead exposure is a huge public health issue,
according to The World Health Organization. Paint and dust laced with lead are the most
common sources of exposure, but contaminated water is another big issue. In the U.S. alone, over 5,000 water systems
violate the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act, placing an estimated 18 million people at
risk. And lead poisoning is no joke. This chemical element (Pb) can accumulate
in our body over time, leading to kidney damage, reduced IQ, increased risk of cancer, stroke,
and even death. That’s all thanks to lead’s sneaky ability
to mimic and inhibit calcium, break through the blood-brain barrier, and result in the
misfiring of neural signals, impairing our ability to learn and develop. Evidence suggests that ancient Romans knew
their lead pipes were poisonous, but lead’s dangers weren’t widely re-discovered until
the period of industrialization in the 19th century, when reports of lead poisoning began
to pick up. Decades of subsequent scientific investigation
and their damming findings eventually prompted many governments to distance themselves from
sources of lead, like gasoline additives, paint, and piping material, which was favored
as a durable and long-lasting material well into the 20th century. But it takes time to redo the plumbing of
entire cities, as was made painfully clear when taps in Flint, Michigan began dispensing
lead-contaminated water to residents in 2014. One sample even had lead levels reaching 13,200
parts per billion! So…we’re stuck with all this lead-laden
water. Now what? Water doesn’t contain much lead on its own,
but it can be corrosive. Once in contact with lead pipes, it can breakdown
the metal and cause leaching. To prevent this, inorganic phosphates are
commonly added to public water supplies, where they react with positively charged lead ions
to form a protective, insoluble mineral scale on the inside of pipes. . But without maintaining tight control of
the chemistry, that coating is quickly eaten away. To fix a water supply that’s turned toxic,
pipe replacement is by far the best solution, but it’s extremely costly and slow. Case in point: it took two years after Flint’s
water crisis erupted for the city’s roughly 170 million dollar pipe replacement program
to break ground. And as of 2019, roughly 2,500 lines still
need replacement. So is there a better way to zap the situation? ASHOK: In our work, we ask the question, “what
can we do to rapidly stop a leaching lead pipe so that the drinking water that passes
through it will become safe all over again?” The team specializes in drinking water treatment
using electrochemistry, which is the science of looking at how electricity interacts with
materials. It starts by introducing a threaded wire down
the inside of a lead pipe into a tank of water filled with phosphates, then switching on
an electric circuit. At first, the voltage causes lead ions to
leach into the water, but as these ions react with the phosphates, they begin to form insoluble
lead phosphate. Searching for somewhere to deposit, these
minerals begin to settle on the lead pipe itself. ASHOK: As the lead phosphate lines the inside
of the lead pipe for a given voltage, less and less current can flow because the lead
pipe becomes non-conducting…that’s how we know that our process is working.We can reduce
the leaching of lead from those pipes by a factor of about 150. We have not tested it yet in the field, but
we have a solution that works. Their preliminary results found that once
a charge is introduced, a mineral barrier can accumulate on the pipe wall in less than
2 hours, effectively decreasing lead leaching by ~99%. Any part of the lead pipe that’s left uncoated,
the current self-tunes to go where it needs to go. As for cost, it’s cheap. There is also a sense of public responsibility
in fixing the problem…replacing a pipe costs about 100 dollars a foot if you fold in all
the costs. Our goal is to bring that cost down to, maybe,
three dollars a foot. Water chemistry varies by a lot.We haven’t
explored all that space of unknowns…to say “oh yeah, we got the silver bullet. We need to test it out, but we are ready to
do that very soon we think. If all goes well, the team plans to try their
technique in nearby schools as early as this year. Once refined, this technology could act as
a vital stopgap until communities are able to replace lead pipes, as that ultimately
remains the best solution. And maybe a 5-star filter for your water tap. Are you excited about this research to stop
this toxin from polluting our tap? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t
forget to subscribe for more Seeker. I’ll see you next time, thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Lead Poisoning Is Still a Huge Problem, But There Could Be a Quick Fix”

  1. I'm thinking this could be adapted with a form of catalyst that can be used to purify the water of lead in polluted areas.

  2. Well, as cities age there's going to be more (and worse) problems that'll only get more expensive and crucial to address.
    Like gas lines that're getting a bit older.
    Like, 30 & 40 years beyond their planned lifetimes.
    ……maybe that's why we hear about them
    💥 P O P P I N G 💥
    in various locations from time to time…

    ….and I knew they'd mention Flint…

  3. What kind of pipes are they replaced with?
    And why did they use lead pipes in the first place? Are they cheap?

  4. LOL. The pipes shown in the thumbnail were rusting because they're made of galvanized steel. Lead doesn't corrode that way.

  5. Oh here we go again using our children as guinea pigs why do they have to test this process in the schools why don’t they use a city building?

  6. You forgot a few things that increases with lead poisonning (that comes with lower IQ):-Trump supports;-Poverty;-Ignorance;-Rejection of science

  7. Step 1: get rid of corrupt government officials.
    What’s sill happening in flint is a crime against humanity.

  8. What happens when the new lead phosphate compound is eroded away by water? Which would also re-expose the lead. How often would the process have to be done if erosion is an issue?

  9. Lead pipes were approved by national plumbing codes into the 1980s. Profit will always out weigh your life!

  10. After gasoline was made unleaded, crime in the United States declined over time. Imagine. All that shit lead in the air made people STUPID and CRAZY.

  11. When people say, "Just replace the pipes" I don't think they really get it. YES that is the BEST way to fix the issue and it should be done, however the US is huge. So much so than most other nations both in landmass and population. How does this affect it you say? Well Billy, that subdivision (most of) you are living in is partially to blame. This issue is very compounding in terms of its cause but in brevity, American Modernism, Urban Sprawl, and post-war deflation of cities is largely to blame. Reason being that the rapid expansion of people out of the cities and thus further from processing abilities and other goods and infrastructures, meant that these types of infrastructure needed to be rapidly expanded. Lead was a good (at the time thought of as) and cheap way to do this. Now it is so difficult to replace because of how expansive this corrosive and deadly network actually is, and how much this will actually cost.
    EDIT – Please do not comment about Flint. As a Michigander, this issue is far more than what media has reported.

    Good video though. Helps get the info out there!

  12. I remember reading a study that found that every dollar spent on lead removal yields a thirteenfold increase on the initial investment.  Unfortunately, my Google-fu isn't strong enough to find that study again.

  13. Why don't they just make plumbing with glass? Silicon is literally dirt cheap, it can be made very strong and is much more chemically inert than plastics, (reasonably priced) metals and ceramics.

  14. In my eyes the dangerous thing is, that even this is just a temporary solution, which maybe tempting to some towns to just do this every now and then instead of actually fixing the underlying problem.

  15. Richest country in the world guys -but rich only in CEO pay and Company profits. The rest of the country is FUUUUUUUUUUCKED

  16. or you could simply change all the pipes
    it would also be nice to adopt the metric system you damned murricas

  17. We have the money to bad its spent on the wrong stuff. Just a small percentage of the defense budget could be spent on infrastructure like pipes and the jobs created will boost the economy. It's so simple

  18. Mean while in Europe: why do you guys put fluoride in your water. We banned that decades ago
    Like medicine the dosage should be specific but a child and adult should not have same dose but can drink the same amount of water and the amount of fluoride obviously the same.
    Interesting how tooth paste says call poison control if ingested and fluoride is the only active ingredient.
    Fluoride is a mineral like lead and lithium there is a pronounced effect from ingestion and it's not needed to live. Europeans saw a reason to ban it

  19. Which public water systems still are out of compliance with the EPA?

    I looked at the sources you referenced, but I did not see their references.

    I wanted to know if my water system was part of that group of noncompliance.

  20. it is on this cases that our european socialist welfare states are cool…. we pay taxes to death but "lead pipes" ? what the hell is that ? I thought the romans had lead pipes…

  21. There actually unsafe levels of lead and mercury in most seafood, always wondered why this isn’t talked about more ???

  22. Looks like she was " lead " to hire a personal stylist! No more , will I say , This chick needs a Freakin' personal stylist! "Cuz now she don't anymore…!

  23. US is all about expenses, every tiny things costs a lot. Even public health hazard related stuff is viewed from the lens of expenses. The US government can provide subsidies import of pipes from other countries to reduce the cost, or provide import tax relief to local manufacturers –lot of policies can be tweaked to reduce the cost for them to afford dealing with health hazard.

    Of course there are dumb people taking dumb decisions..this will never end.

  24. People look up too much and forget to see whats under their nose. Yall paranoid people are always about the chemtrails that the government supposedly is using to mind control people or someshit. Meanwhile, down in the ground, shit like these are let to run without much interference. Its nice because lead makes people dumb

  25. Put the new pipes above ground , very simple and cost eeffective , bury pipes later if you wish… Very simple. Or have filters on spickets with activated charcoal…. The gov would rather increase tax and do something retarted

  26. You cowards. You know damn well how this could easily be fixed and are too domesticated to say it. Stop spending all your money on weapons you filthy terrorists.

  27. Seeker: "Let's have women in our science videos!"
    Viewers: "Great. Women in science!"
    Seeker: "Only women…"

  28. A good stop gap measure might be to distribute reverse osmosis systems.
    These can be bought for under $300 each so the government can afford to give one to families that can't afford one.

  29. or, here's a crazy idea, how about instead of forcing cities and households to replace the shitty pipes, why no do what every other country t hat had lead pipes did and have the government pay for it. and don't say we can't afford it because we've spent TRILLIONS killing people on the other side of the world.

  30. Lead? Lead is only the tiny tip of a gigantic water table problem. This is worthy of worry but we need to look much deeper. Just one teeny tiny example is the Twin Tower disaster. All those toxins that are killing those that were the first responders, are now in the water table. Lead permeates the water table because of the years and years of use around the world. Yes lead, but there are thousands of more toxins and poisons that we have introduced into the water table and it will not stop. Pure uncontaminated water is very hard to find these days. It is a very sad state of affairs.

  31. HEY ELECTROLYSIS GREAT! Everybody go get all your all your lead pipes and bring to this guys lab and in 2 hours you can bring them back home and reinstall them, PRESTO CHANGEO! JEANIOUS! Thet theres sum reely smarts idears theys got thar, hooowee!

  32. This is all great and all but maybe a better solution would be muting and installing small water filters that remove not only lead but other stuff like chlorine. Yes the filters need changed periodically but it will create jobs and this is a nice way to keep ppl happy while changing pipes at a slower and less cost up front.

  33. Look at the blackboard behind Dr.Gadgil at 3:03. It says 10X less cost than pipe replacement". I heard him say $3 per foot maybe. but he wrote 10% on the board because that's what he was thinking for real. That's a lot of money for a temporary fix. If this goes into widespread use, the politicians will not be motivated to replace the pipes very fast. I can hear them now, making rationalizations about why we just don't have the money to replace your pipes right away.because this brought your lead levels down to (13,200 x 1%) 132 ppb. So, No, I am not excited by this.

  34. My gandmas home =(
    She had a pipe bust and I had to go fix it for her. when i cut off a part of the the pipe to replace, I was shocked to see there was rust inside. Her house is old, I felt helpless. Told her to not drink the water or anything. Alot of new homes now don't use certain pipes like in the old days.

  35. Maybe the yanks should upgrade their infrastructure instead of trying to police the world or start new wars…
    Oh wait citizens cost money wars make people money, profits before people…

  36. Yeaaaah, but wouldn't that make the diameter of the pipe smaller making water harder to go through basically leaving you with a small dribble. Then after some time that mineral falls off…

  37. I’m gonna stop at 1:00 here, mimic calcium… there is a better word for that situation, “similarity to calcium” lead is not mimicking anything, its lead, Pb, an element. Sorry, but I’m just thinking that your script’s prof reading need to be more thorough to catch phrases like that, though minor.

  38. Forget it. Replace all lead pipes for potable water with copper.
    Unless all the politicians want to chug a gallon of tainted water a day.

  39. We knew this in the 1920's, but hey gasoline.. Meanwhile in America Hexafluorisilic Acid waste effluent is dumped in Drinking water. A violation of the EPA's clean water act, a risk hazard and fluorine transports aluminium to the brain. America you are violating the Nuremburg convention put in place after WW2. The right of informed consent. Chemistry.. Fluorine.

  40. From my point of view, here in germany, america has so many problems a developed country shouldnt have anymore in 2019!
    Lead in pipes, no social health care (that is for me so ridicolous) no protection for employees…
    Social health care doesnt mean communism. It just means you are a rich country where nobody is dying because they are poor.

    The thoughts some americans have is just not unerstandable for me…

  41. Stick metal coat hanger in electric socket and touch pipe with the end of the hanger and your water will be safe

  42. Scientists: Lead is poison. A very dangerous poison.
    Politicians: I have an idea!! Let's put lead pipes in our water systems because it's cheap!
    People: Genius!

  43. Just get rid of the lead pipes it is toxic, stop using it cool that there is a way to make it safer, still no excuse to not replace those pipes, lead is the biggest scam in human history, get rid of it already.

  44. It seems a whole lot of people completely underestimate the hazards of lead.
    Which is probably related to the gun culture and the fact that bullets are still mostly made with lead.

    Lead is highly toxic. Every milligram you ingest makes you a little bit less smart. Chronic, minor lead poisoning makes you literally stupid. Besides leading to a number of other health issues and permanent damage to the human body.
    Which is also why you should not eat while handling lead bullets and wash your hands afterwards.
    Also, you should never use ammunition that contains lead for hunting and never shoot around randomly for fun. You will pollute the environment with a highly toxic heavy metal.
    Go to a range. A good shooting range will take measures to prevent lead from contaminating the ground water. Also, nobody would eat anything that grows on a shooting range.

  45. Phosphate attack pineal gland in the brain. Why consider an alternative while replacing the pipes is the best and healthiest solution for citizen? Where is all the tax going? there is no excuse not to change the pipes as water is one of the main ingredient of life. Not replacing the pipes or considering inferior alternative is like indirectly poisoning everyone who drink from the lead pipes water.

  46. this is all really cool but impossible to place a piece of wire down every pipe and make sure its not touching the pipe otherwise will not work so cool but not real use….

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