An Analysis of the Lead Contamination Risks of Public Water Supplies in the Mississippi Delta

Author(s): Otts, S.; Janasie, C.

Childhood lead poisoning is a challenging social issue that requires the coordination of health, housing, and environmental law and policy. Little is known about the contribution of lead pipes and water treatment to lead poisoning in Mississippi. In 2017, the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi analyzed the lead monitoring data of public water systems in nine counties as part of a Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute-funded interdisciplinary project to assess the effectiveness of community-based research strategies to analyze risk of lead contamination in public water supplies in the Mississippi Delta. The distribution system for drinking water in Mississippi is incredibly fragmented. The majority of public water systems in the region serve less than 500 customers. Due to their small size, the samples sizes required under state and federal law are quite small—usually just five or ten samples every three years. For many public water systems, this means that less than 1% of the homes within the service area are tested for lead. A review of lead monitoring data can help identify public water systems that may be experiencing problems with their corrosion control or other aspects of their systems that can increase the risk of lead contamination. However, the lead risks of individual homes throughout the community cannot be known without further testing. This presentation will present an overview of the legal framework governing the provision of public water supplies in Mississippi, followed by a summary of the research results for each county. Four public water systems reported sampling results for the current monitoring period that exceed the federal action level for lead (15 ppb). Five additional public water systems reported exceedances within the past five years. This presentation will conclude with a discussion of the challenges of addressing lead exposure from drinking water supplies and actions that policy-makers, water supply systems, community organizations, and other interested stakeholders might take to protect public health.

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