San Antonio Has A Lead Pollution Problem

San Antonio Has A Lead Pollution Problem

Many Americans were shocked last year when they learned about the high levels of lead in the municipal water of Flint, Michigan. In that city, about 5 percent of children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their bodies. It may be even more shocking for Texans to learn that San Antonio has a lead pollution problem, along with other areas of the state. The levels in Flint pale in comparison to many areas in Texas, including San Antonio.

The news agency Reuters collected data from state health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It showed that in two zip codes in the San Antonio area - 78202 and 78203 - more than 22 percent of children had elevated levels of lead in their bodies. This should be of great concern to parents and public health officials in affected areas, because elevated levels of lead in children can impair learning and cognitive abilities, reduce IQ, cause hearing loss, and result in behavioral problems.

The Reuters study has an interactive map that makes it easy to see the lead levels in zip codes in Texas and across the country. In the San Antonio area, these zip codes had the highest levels of lead:

Zip Code

City/Metropolitan Area

# of Children Tested

Elevated Levels of Lead



San Antonio




San Antonio




San Antonio




San Antonio




San Antonio




San Antonio




San Antonio



Other areas in Central Texas that had elevated lead levels include:

Zip Code

City/Metropolitan Area

# of Children Tested

Elevated Levels of Lead






















What are sources of human exposure to lead?

There are several sources of lead that pose the risk of harmful effects on the human body.

Lead was once a common component in house paint. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the sale of lead-based paint for residential use. This ban restricted the lead content in paint to 0.06% (600 parts per million). The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, also known as Title X, was enacted in 1992. This law required disclosure of known lead-based paint hazards to home buyers and renters and mandated specific lead hazard reduction practices in certain housing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) program in 1996, which requires certification and training for contractors working in homes built before 1978 to minimize the risk of lead exposure during renovations. The EPA is the enforcement agency to ensure that lead laws and regulations are followed.

While the sale of lead-based paint for residential use was banned in 1978, many older homes still contain lead-based paint layers beneath newer coatings. The risk of lead exposure primarily comes from the deterioration or disturbance of these older paint layers.

Industrial plants that manufactured lead products sometimes polluted the soil surrounding those facilities. Children playing in contaminated soil are at risk of lead poisoning by ingesting it through hand-to-mouth contact.

Lead was also used in pipes and solder. Lead can leach into drinking water from lead pipes or fixtures, especially in homes with older plumbing systems, increasing the risk of lead exposure.

It is also used as a stabilizer in PVC pipes and is found in some jewelry and trinkets.

Leaded gasoline was the single greatest source of lead pollution until it was completely phased out in 1991. Lead was used in gasoline to increase the efficiency of combustion engines.

While lead paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978, it is currently the chief culprit, because thousands of homes throughout Texas and the nation have lead based paint.

What health risks are associated with exposure to lead?

Exposure to lead can pose significant health risks, particularly for children and pregnant women. Some of the health risks associated with lead exposure include:

  • Neurological Effects: Lead exposure can impair the brain and nervous system. It can impair brain development in children, leading to learning disabilities, decreased IQ, and behavioral problems. Adults with high lead exposure may experience symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, and mood disorders.
  • Behavioral and Emotional Issues: Children exposed to lead may exhibit aggressive behavior, hyperactivity, and other emotional and behavioral issues.
  • Anemia: Lead can interfere with the production of hemoglobin, leading to anemia, which can cause fatigue and weakness.
  • Kidney Damage: High levels of lead exposure can adversely affect kidney function, potentially leading to kidney dysfunction.
  • Reproductive Issues: Lead exposure can affect the reproductive system, causing fertility issues and complications during pregnancy.
  • Hypertension: Even low levels of lead exposure have been linked to increased blood pressure in adults, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems.
  • Cognitive Decline: Long-term exposure to lead in adults has been associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia.
  • Gastrointestinal Problems: Lead can affect the gastrointestinal system, causing abdominal pain, constipation, and other digestive issues.
  • Damage to Other Organs and Systems: Lead exposure can harm other organs like the liver and bones. Lead may also damage the immune system and cardiovascular system. Lead has been linked to low birth weight in babies born to pregnant women who were exposed to lead pollution, as well as premature birth. Lead may also be connected to high blood pressure.

It's important to note that the effects of lead exposure can be irreversible. Preventing exposure through measures such as removing lead-based paint, using lead-safe practices in occupations that may involve lead, and avoiding lead-contaminated products is essential for protecting health. If you suspect lead exposure, seek medical evaluation and remediation measures promptly.

How to detect and measure lead exposure risk

There are a variety of ways to detect and measure lead exposure risk, depending on the context and the individuals involved.

Testing blood lead levels is the most direct way to assess lead exposure. A blood sample is taken, and the concentration of lead in the bloodstream is measured in micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). Blood lead concentrations are an important measure to verify potential adverse effects from lead poisoning in children and individuals at risk, such as those in lead-related occupations.

Certain jobs, such as construction, painting, and battery manufacturing, may expose workers to lead. Proper protective gear and safety measures are crucial in these professions. Employers in occupations with potential lead exposure should conduct workplace monitoring to assess employees' exposure levels. This may involve air sampling and periodic blood lead testing.

Consider factors such as living in an older home, occupation, and lifestyle when assessing lead exposure risk. If you're in a high-risk category, take precautions to minimize exposure. If you live in an older home, consider having it inspected for lead-based paint. A certified lead inspector can test paint chips, dust, and soil for lead content. This is crucial if you have young children who might ingest lead dust.

Soil and water testing may also reveal environmental contamination with lead pollution. If you have concerns about lead in your drinking water, you can have your water tested. The danger of contaminated water is particularly relevant if you live in an older home with lead pipes or plumbing fixtures. If you have a garden or play area in your yard, consider soil testing, especially if you suspect lead contamination due to nearby sources like lead-based paint or old industrial sites that may have released lead emissions.

Be cautious about imported goods, especially toys or cosmetics, which may contain lead particles. Look for recalls or consumer advisories related to lead-contaminated products that may have toxic effects.

If you or your child exhibits symptoms of lead exposure or if you suspect exposure, consult a healthcare provider. They can perform blood lead testing and provide guidance on further evaluation and treatment if necessary. It's important to remember that lead exposure can occur without obvious symptoms, so regular testing and preventive measures are crucial, especially for children and pregnant women.

Can anyone be held liable for lead pollution?

Liability for lead exposure can extend to various parties depending on the circumstances. Landlords who fail to address the problem of flaking lead-based paint or lead plumbing in their rental units could conceivably find themselves the target of lawsuits, as could any industrial company that has allowed lead to pollute soil or groundwater, or that uses lead in products used by children.

Here are some scenarios where liability may come into play:

Property owners can be held liable if they fail to disclose the presence of lead-based paint in their properties, especially when renting or selling. Landlords who rent properties with lead hazards, fail to remediate those hazards, or do not provide adequate information about lead risks can be held liable for lead exposure in their tenants.

Manufacturers of lead-based paint or products containing lead can be held liable for harm caused by their products if they did not adequately warn consumers about the dangers of lead exposure or failed to provide proper usage instructions. Manufacturers of consumer products that contain lead also can be held liable if their products cause lead exposure and harm to consumers, especially if the products are intended for use by children.

Employers in industries where lead exposure is a known risk (e.g., construction, painting, battery manufacturing) have a legal obligation to protect their employees from lead exposure. Failure to provide proper training, protective gear, and a safe work environment can result in employer liability for lead-related harmful health effects in workers. Additionally, contractors hired to perform renovations or repairs in homes or buildings with lead-based paint may be held liable if they do not follow lead-safe work practices and inadvertently create lead hazards.

In some cases, government agencies responsible for enforcing lead safety regulations may be held liable for failing to carry out their duties effectively, resulting in lead exposure.

Liability in lead exposure cases can be complex and often requires legal expertise to determine responsibility. If someone believes they have been harmed due to lead exposure, they should consult with a San Antonio personal injury lawyer with experience in premises liability, toxic exposure, product liability, class actions, and lead pollution cases to assess potential liability and seek legal remedies.


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