Drinking water in Houston-area homes testing positive for lead

A major initiative is underway to identify homes in Fifth Ward that have lead in the drinking water and some have already tested positive.

"Lead contaminated drinking water is not something that is as rare as public health professionals maybe once thought," explains Texas A&M School of Public Health Research Assistant Professor Dr. Garett Sansom, who makes up part of the team on the Data To Action project. 


"We’re finding lead-contaminated drinking water as well as lead-contaminated soils and paints in several different communities throughout Texas," said Sansom. 

Right now the group is collecting water, soil and in-home dust samples from houses in Fifth Ward. 

"The preliminary data does suggest we’re finding in about 20-30% of the homes a detectable lead level," says Sansom. 

"Children should not be poisoned. Families and household members should not be poisoned when they drink water coming out the faucet," adds Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy Dr. Robert Bullard. 


Texas Southern University is also on the Data To Action project team, which points out lead-based products began being banned in phases in paint, pipes, and other products back in the 1970s, but because of financial constraints many older homes still aren’t lead-free. 

Dr. Bullard, a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, says the proposed national infrastructure bill could help, if passed. 

"But there’s no agreement right now. There has to be a coming together to talk about attacking these problems that we know are hurting communities of color."


The group is also examining how soil in these areas is getting contaminated. 

"What we typically see in a lot of areas when we have really high contaminant levels of heavy metals is it’s typically from industrial runoff, storm drain runoff," explains Dr. Sansom. 

"To have so many different sources of industrial pollution in one community says that community wasn’t valued. That to me is the most disheartening thing," adds TSU Toxicologist Dr. Denae King. 

A cancer cluster has been confirmed in the Fifth Ward/Kashmere Gardens area, meaning elevated counts of cancers were identified that are known to be associated with the kinds of chemicals used at the nearby Union Pacific site. 

RELATED: Child cancer cluster located in Houston's Fifth Ward

Dr. King grew up in that area. 

"It certainly has fueled me to really want to do this work and understand how I might have been exposed. How my family members were exposed," said King. 
The group has already tested for lead in water on Houston’s East End Harrisburg/Manchester area. 

RELATED: Houston mayor asks Union Pacific to help pay for families to move away from cancer cluster area

"In which we found about 30% of the homes had detectable levels of lead in their drinking water," says Dr. Sansom. 

"Lead is not healthy for no humans," says Fifth Ward resident Sandra Edwards, who is a Block Captain on the team. She's been going around her neighborhood for months now helping collect the water and other samples. 

"To make sure everybody out here is safe. That’s our main objective to make sure Fifth Ward is safe." 


The team will next focus on testing water in Kashmere Gardens.

Houston and Harris County have HUD funding to remediate homes with lead, for free, but that does not include removing old lead-based pipes. Houston Public Works has a free lead and copper water testing program, but you have to submit your request for that before October 29, 2021. Click here and complete the two minute survey to determine if you qualify for the free testing.