Environmental Science Director Discusses Mass. Lead Contamination & Its Impact on Children

Martha Richmond appears on Flint water crisis segment of Radio Boston

Professor Martha Richmond, director of Suffolk’s Environmental Science program, discussed Massachusetts water issues related to lead with WBUR Radio Boston host Meghna Chakrabarti during the segment “Mass. Water Systems Test over Federal Limit for Lead.”

Richmond, who will lead an on-campus discussion of policy, water, and justice in the Flint water crisis on April 21, responded to a recent report saying that 33 water systems in Massachusetts have tested with lead levels above federal standards at least once in the past three years.


Unlike in Flint, where the water supply is the problem, most Massachusetts communities served by the MWRA “get water that is very good, very pure, and wonderful to drink,” said Richmond. “The problem for communities like that is, if they have old service lines that go from the feeder line into the residence or into the public facility…that water is often contaminated because of the lead in the pipe.”

The contamination can be due to leaching from an older pipe made from lead or from pipes joined with lead solder.

Richmond, who teaches biochemistry and related courses, noted that people in Flint were told to open their taps and flush their lines to remove lead from the water. However, she tells people testing their water to take the first 10 milliliters of cold tap water in the morning to get a reading from water that has remained in the pipes overnight.

She also noted that, because people have to pay for their water, when Flint residents are advised to “flush their lines for some protracted period of time --- they’re still running a lot of water, and that’s costly.”

Lead ingestion in young children can impact IQ and lead to attention deficits and certain kinds of antisocial behavior, said Richmond.

“The greater the exposure to lead, the more likely it is that a child is going to have an adverse symptom, she said.

Panel discussion on the Flint water crisis

Richmond also discussed the correlation between income and lead contamination, the lead-safe law, and incentives for updating lead service lines.

She will lead a conversation on the Flint water crisis at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 21, in the University’s 10th-floor conference room at 73 Tremont St., Boston. Joining Richmond in a discussion of who is affected by the high levels of toxins and lead in Flint's water supply, what is being done, and how the crisis extends beyond the Michigan city will be:

  • William Berman, law professor and director of Suffolk's Housing Discrimination Testing Program, which this year settled a tenant-landlord case related to lead paint contamination
  • Ken Hung, Sawyer Business School, chair and professor of Information Systems and Operations Management
  • Janine Anzalota, City of Boston Fair Housing Office 
  • Paul Hunter, director of the childhood lead poisoning prevention program, Mass. Department of Public Health
  • John MacIsaac, ASAP Environmental, Inc.
  • Daniel Faber, director of the Northeastern University Environmental Justice Collaborative

 Radio Boston story