Increase in miscarriages coincided with high levels of lead in D.C. water, study finds
By Carol D. Leonning, http://www.washingtonpost.com
Late-term miscarriages and spontaneous abortions occurred at an unusually high rate among Washington women from 2000 through 2003 — during the same time frame that lead levels were dangerously high in the city’s drinking water, a study has found.
The increase in fetal deaths was an anomalous spike for the District, and the rate of women losing advanced pregnancies returned to average levels in 2004. That is the year that a Washington Post story alerted the public to the widespread lead problem in tap water, and federal health officials began urging children and pregnant women to instead drink filtered or bottled water.
The study findings, which are scheduled to be published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, do not prove that the city’s lead crisis caused fetal deaths or miscarriages. But the results show a significant correlation between the two events.
Lead is an extremely toxic metal, and ingestion of lead paint dust and high doses of lead in water have been traced to brain damage, behavioral problems and developmental delays in children. Exposure to lead has also been linked to miscarriages. In the early 1900s, lead-laced pills were used to induce abortions.
The study, by Virginia Tech environmental engineer Marc Edwards, contrasts sharply with government-led health studies that were released amid an outcry after people learned of hazardous lead in the water in 2004. Those studies largely rejected the notion that the water had harmed public health.
The data seem “to confirm the expectation, based on prior research, that about 20 to 30 extra fetal deaths occurred each year that the lead in water was high,” Edwards said.
One rushed and disputed analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserted in April 2004 that there was no indication of health trouble from the water problem, even among children in homes with the highest lead levels in the water. Under repeated criticism, the CDC published a corrected analysis in 2010, acknowledging that this overarching statement had been misleading and based on incomplete data.
Today, the city’s drinking water has historically low levels of lead. But Edwards’s study looks back at that period when the city had some of the highest lead spikes in water ever recorded in the United States. The study tracks the rate at which pregnant Washington women suffered miscarriages known as fetal deaths — losing a pregnancy after 20 weeks — and charted the data before, during and after the city’s experience with unusually high levels of lead in drinking water. Read More