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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Drinking Water

High levels of lead in drinking water linked to increased miscarriage rates

January 07, 2014

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According to a recent study, due to be published in the the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the elevated level of lead in the drinking water supplied to Washington, D.C., was to blame for the sharp and unexplained rise in the number of late-term miscarriages and spontaneous abortions between 2000 and 2003.

The study followed an investigation by the Washington Post, which was the first source to alert people that the concentration of lead in the city's drinking water was dangerously high. In 2004 city authorities issued a warning that children and pregnant women should drink filtered or bottled water instead. That same year, miscarriages and spontaneous abortions dropped to their usual rates for the city, the Washington Post reported.

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Although the study by Virginia Tech environmental engineer Marc Edwards did not prove that the high level of lead in the water caused the spike in miscarriage rates, it found a "significant correlation" between lead concentration and unsuccessful pregnancies. By contrast, a government-backed study that looked into the matter, carried out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rejected the possibility that lead concentration was linked to the miscarriages.

Edwards noted that his findings confirmed that between 20 and 30 fetal deaths per year occurred during the period when drinking water delivered to the city contained high levels of lead, with rates reaching 10.9 deaths per 1,000 in 2000 and 12.9 deaths in 2001. Following the replacement of the water supply system, fetal death rates fell back to the historic average of 7 deaths per 1,000.

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