The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster
In The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster, Werner Troesken looks at a long-runningenvironmental and public health catastrophe: 150 years of lead pipes in local water systems and theassociated sickness, premature death, political inaction, and social denial. The harmful effects oflead water pipes became apparent almost as soon as cities the world over began to install them.Doctors and scientists noted cases of acute illness and death attributable to lead in public waterbeginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, and an editorial in the New York Herald calledfor the city to study the matter after a bizarre illness made headlines in 1868. But officials tookno action for many years. New York City, for example, did not take any steps to reduce lead levelsin water until 1992, long after the most serious damage had been done. By then, in any case, much ofthe old lead pipe had been replaced with safer materials.Troesken examines the health effects oflead exposure, analyzing cases from New York City, Boston, and Glasgow and many smaller towns inMassachusetts, New Hampshire, and England. He draws on period accounts, government reports, courtdecisions, and economic and demographic analysis to document the widespread nature of the problem,the recognized health effects--particularly for pregnant women and young children--and officialintransigence. He presents an accessible overview of the old and new science of leadexposure--explaining, for example, why areas with soft water suffered more harmful effects thanareas with hard water. And he gives us compelling and vivid accounts of the people and politicsinvolved. The effects of lead in water continue to be felt; many older houses still have leadservice pipes. The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster is essential reading for understanding this pastand ongoing public health problem.