This week: March 1, 2024 - Robert Milam - The White House Historical Association

Bruce A. Fowler, Ph.D, Fellow ATS: Ongoing Flint Michigan Lead in Drinking Water Crisis & Effects of Lead in Children

Posted on March 5th

Bruce A. Fowler, Ph.D, Fellow ATS

The public health problem of lead in drinking water systems has been appreciated for several thousand years. The Roman engineer Vitruvius (81 BC – 15 BC), who was involved in constructing the water system in ancient Rome was well aware of the dangers of using lead pipes (fistulas) for carrying water from the terra cotta main lines into homes. (A quote which is relevant today on this matter is something to the effect that “We know that lead is bad but on the other hand it is cheap and easy to work with so we will use it anyway.”) Lead may also be leached from lead or copper lines with lead solder acidic (soft) water from chemicals added to inhibit bacteria. The result is increased lead levels water consumed by humans. In more recent times, elevated lead levels have been found in a number of municipal water systems, most notably including Washington, DC (2003-2004) and Flint Michigan (2014-2019).

In other words, the problem of lead in water systems is not new and still with us. Solution range from replacing all lead-containing municipal water systems to using chemicals to reduce lead solubility into water. Major questions include:

What is a “safe level” for lead in drinking water?
For some people, it’s zero.

What are the effects of low dose lead exposure?
Loss of cognitive ability, irritability, kidney effects and others.

How long does lead stay in the body?
Decades, due to skeletal deposition but this may vary due to processes affecting the skeleton such as pregnancy, osteoporosis etc.

Who is at risk?
All age groups, both genders and genetic inheritance.

Bruce A. Fowler, a Past President of our club, has a B.S. degree in Fisheries (Marine Biology) from the University of Washington in 1968 and a Ph.D. in Pathology from the University of Oregon Medical School in 1972. He began his scientific career at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences prior to becoming Director of the University of Maryland System-wide Program in Toxicology and Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He then served as Associate Director for Science in the Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine at CDC / ATSDR. He is currently a private consultant and Adjunct Professor, Emory School of Public Health and Presidents Professor of Biomedical Science at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

Dr. Fowler has been honored as a Fellow of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, a Fulbright Scholar and Swedish Medical Research Council Visiting Professor at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden and elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences (ATS). He has served on the Council of the SOT and the Board of Directors of the ATS. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Fulbright Association and past chair of the Advocacy Committee. Dr. Fowler is the author of over 260 research papers and book chapters; he has authored or edited/co-edited 10 books or monographs on metal toxicology, molecular biomarkers, computational toxicology and mechanisms of chemical–induced cell injury.

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