Lead found in drinking water among homes near Houston Ship Channel

Image: School of Public Health

Researchers at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, College of Architecture and College of Geosciences have discovered lead contaminated water in residential areas through a pilot study along the Houston Ship Channel.

In work published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Garret Sansom, research assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the School of Public Health, led a study in Manchester, a low-income neighborhood along the Houston Ship Channel plagued with numerous issues including flooding, air pollution and health concerns. Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, increase the risk of exposure to lead in this area. Previous research has shown low-income minority communities have an increased risk of lead exposure, but few studies have examined the environmental justice factors of these communities.

Manchester is located in eastern Houston and considered an industrial site, known for generating and storing hazardous waste and discharging large amounts of air pollution. Manchester is one of several communities along the Houston Ship Channel, with 98 percent of this population being minority. Only 6 percent of residents have obtained bachelor degrees, and the median income is one-third lower than the city of Houston overall, according to the City of Houston Planning and Development Department.

Researchers collected surveys from 13 randomly selected residents and collected tap water samples from 22 households. Researchers found that 30.8 percent of respondents indicated having concerns about their water. 75 percent of the residents who had concerns actually had lead in their water. Overall, 30 percent of the homes sampled had lead in the water, with 25 percent of these homes having children. Older homes with lead pipes, in conjunction with the chemicals used during the water purification process, are the underlying cause of lead contaminated water in Manchester.

“The water purification process in Houston uses chlorine and chloramines to purify tap water,” Sansom said. “However, these chemicals change the composition of the water, so that when it flows through old piping, it causes the pipes to leech lead into the drinking water.”

More at the School of Public Health, the College of Architecture, and the College of Geosciences