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Galesburg lead issues gain national attention

April 15, 2016

With the national spotlight on Flint due to the lead contamination in the water, more communities are being examined to find out if they fall within standards. One of these communities that failed fell close to home for members of the Monmouth College community.

On Saturday, the Associated Press released a report that listed Galesburg as one of the nearly 1,400 water systems in America that exceeded the federal lead standard at least once. Galesburg was the main focus of the report because 1 in 20 children under the age of 6 in Knox County had lead levels exceeding the state standard.

Even though lead poisoning is a concern for adults, it mainly affects children. The Mayo Clinic says lead poisoning can cause a developmental delay and learning difficulties in children who are exposed. According to Knox College environmental studies professor and Galesburg City Council Member Dr. Peter Schwartzman, lead poisoning is especially dangerous to children because their blood-brain barrier is not fully developed until the age of 2, leaving the brain very susceptible to the effects of lead.

Although there is no information regarding what effects have occurred to the 5 percent of children who were positive, the levels are very concerning to the public. Schwartzman commented that “If my child was one of the 5 percent, I would be very concerned.” He made sure to emphasize that the lead level does not solely come from the water supply, but lead paint in the older homes and lead in the dirt.

For the past 22 out of 30 years, the City of Galesburg’s water supply has been in violation of standards for the State of Illinois. In response, Galesburg began to add phosphate inhibitors to prevent corrosion from occurring within the pipes and sending out notices within water bills. The City of Galesburg Water Division also published a release on the contamination in October of 2015.

However, notifying the public through their water bills has not been very successful. Galesburg citizens interviewed for the AP report were surprised to find out about the lead contamination. Schwartzman stated that “In order to raise awareness, the city needs to go beyond what is on the fine print of the water bill. There are a lot of things on your water bill and you sometimes have to be a scientist to understand it.” He also spoke on the importance of informing elected officials and others in power who failed to be notified this time, saying, “We cannot assume that we can file reports electronically or otherwise.”

Although representatives from the City of Galesburg are saying that the high level of lead in local children’s blood stream is due to lead paint and dirt, others are not convinced. On Wednesday, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL17) wrote an opinion piece for the Galesburg Register Mail that stated, “It’s alarming to me that many officials are so quick to point to lead paint and lead dust as the cause of elevated lead blood levels before fully examining this issue.” Bustos also took time to speak about Galesburg on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, demanding immediate action to be taken in the city. During the speech, she encouraged the City of Galesburg to apply for federal loans to replace the lead pipes in the city.

The AP report also claimed that a few years ago, Galesburg scrapped a program that would assist homeowners in replacing their lead service lines in order to save money. They instead began using phosphate inhibitors. Wayne Carl, Galesburg Public Works Director, and Richard Nelson, Galesburg Water Supervisor, could not be reached for comment.

Knox College also put out a release to students on Tuesday in order to calm fears that many students had about the contamination. In the release, the college stated that 95 percent of buildings on the Knox campus do not have lead service lines. The release continued to say that the other 5 percent of buildings would be tested in order to see if the levels would be within the levels mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jacob Marx
Political Columnist

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