Mapping lead exposure risk by census tract
April 6, 2016 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Vox, with the help of the Washington State Department of Health, has used "housing and poverty data in our calculations to [map] areas of risk" for lead poisoning.

Flint, MI lead exposure crisis, previously, and previouslier.
posted by MoonOrb (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good grief! My tiny town in eastern WA is listed as an 8 on this map?

What should I do? Take a sample or three of my tap water to a testing agency? Start attending city council meetings? Start saving for a water filtration system?

This map is only useful up to a point. Now I need to know what my next steps should be.
posted by hippybear at 10:21 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm in the same boat. I live in the ONLY area in Olympia, WA rated as a level 9.

I guess my current options are to get a filter, buy bottled water, or walk down to the artesian well.

But the artesian well is also in the high risk area? Is it affected since its a natural spring?

Ugh, the thing that kills me the most about this is we're unwilling to properly tax corporations to pay for things like preventing this, and yet many of those same companies bottle our water and sell it back to us as though they're doing us a fucking favor by providing clean water since our cities can't provide them for us.

I echo hippybear, what to do next?
posted by deadaluspark at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Mine says 10, so. Maybe bottled water from here on out?
posted by MoonOrb at 10:39 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


This isn't about water or even specific dangers, it's just a general map for helping understand overall risk levels.
This map identifies the places where kids would experience the highest and lowest risks of lead poisoning. It does that by taking all 72,241 census tracts and assigning them a risk score between 1 and 10, based on how old the local houses are and the percentage of the population living in poverty.
There are a number of wealthy Seattle neighborhoods at "risk level 9", because they have houses from the 1920s.
posted by lantius at 10:39 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


So since I live in a house that was built in 1910, I should be worried?
posted by deadaluspark at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2016


One place to start investigating: your local Safe Drinking Water Act Consumer Confidence Reports.
posted by asperity at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2016


Like, this map could seriously use a click-through for each area listing water testing levels, age of houses (and thus paint dangers), and other factors so anyone in any of these areas can know exactly WHY that area was listed as being so high.

This is a perfect example of where having a little information is worse than having a lot of information.
posted by hippybear at 10:44 AM on April 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


This map is useless for dense urban areas (like Cook County, IL, which is a 10) that have tremendous variance in terms of housing stock and demographics.
posted by Mid at 10:49 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


So since I live in a house that was built in 1910, I should be worried?

As far as paint goes, it depends on when your house was last renovated. If you have original paint exposed, well, lead paint was designed to dust off over time in order to maintain a fresh look, so yeah. If you have original paint that was successfully covered by subsequent layers of non-lead paint, then you're safe (from that lead-exposure vector).

I don't know much about lead pipes and the whole plumbing thing, so that will require research on your part.

(If you have an old house with original paint and you want to change that, you'd best do research. Sanding and painting can be a health and environmental issue without a lot of mitigation. Wallpaper may be your best bet.)
posted by hippybear at 10:51 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


My census tract: #9. There's an elementary school around the corner from me. The census tract right next door: #10. That's where the hospital (now officially known as Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital) is.
posted by rtha at 10:51 AM on April 6, 2016


Thanks for the info, hippybear, it was renovated in 1974, and does not have any original paint (or that original paint was covered well before I came here). In fact, I just finished doing a new paint job on the inside myself recently.

The pipes, yeah, that's a whole 'nother can o' worms.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:54 AM on April 6, 2016


Lead in my water, cat turd parasites in my brain. I think I'm going insane!
posted by todayandtomorrow at 11:04 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


Like, this map could seriously use a click-through for each area listing water testing levels, age of houses (and thus paint dangers), and other factors so anyone in any of these areas can know exactly WHY that area was listed as being so high.

Well it sounds like the formula - which can probably be found somewhere - is based strictly on age of houses and poverty. I completely agree that I would like to see it layered with more specific data but that data may not exist in many cases. It's really just a broad risk prediction.

What should I do? Take a sample or three of my tap water to a testing agency? Start attending city council meetings? Start saving for a water filtration system?

For paint there are home lead test kits but I don't know how reliable they are. I think you can have paint samples professionally tested fairly affordably. I guess you could probably do the same for water? I don't know how that is approached.

I'm squarely in a 10 here. Oddly I know I'm in an area with a fairly high soil lead level (due to proximity to a freeway) which is probably reflected on here indirectly through the correlation with poverty but maybe not with age of housing. It seems quite unlikely that the house I live in has original paint over most of the interior, but I do wonder about in the garage.
posted by atoxyl at 11:11 AM on April 6, 2016


I checked my area, the Washington DC region, and holy shitballs is that a sight. The city itself is red and orange. The suburb of Arlington, Virginia is yellow and orange. Pretty much the rest of the entire region is light or dark blue. Depressing and expected.

Just to be contrary, Western New York is all orange and red except around the cities.

This shit is weird.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 11:21 AM on April 6, 2016


good time to review Monmonier's cartographic guide Cartographies of Danger which exhaustively details how risk-mapping is a completely different animal than hazard mapping.

risk = how likely is the event
hazard = how fucked are you if it happens

Lead? pretty fucked. the takeaway is even with a low incidence (risk), the consequences are what we should care about. A hazard-map would be pretty uniformly red for non-zero contamination levels. I mean, if you give a shit about children's brains and stuff.

#geoNerds
aside: that title is well-regarded, rigorous, and is likely a suitable reference in many eoc, business, and academic contexts.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:42 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


What should I do? Take a sample or three of my tap water to a testing agency?

THIS ISN'T ABOUT WATER.

Just to repeat that because I can't embiggen it and put it in blinking boldface marquee letters of fire

THIS ISN'T ABOUT WATER.

It's about paint.

If you live in an area with a high score, you should stop eating your paint.

If you have kids, you should check for peeling paint and deal with the offending areas in the appropriate way. AFAIK know this mostly just means being maybe wearing a respirator while you're stripping the old paint and being super-careful about cleaning up when you're done, but there are probably local regulations about what to do with the resulting filth. DON'T GET YOUR HOUSE TESTED because the difference between a house that anyone should assume has lead paint in it and one that's proven to have lead paint it may be expensively large. House built before lead paint was illegal? Assume it has lead paint.

If you give a shit about other people's kids, you should vote for people who don't mind public programs to help poor people strip and repaint.

This shit is weird.

If most of your housing was built before 1974, most of your housing has lead paint in it. It most of your housing was built after 1974, it doesn't have lead paint in it. So suburbs are low risk but cities and rural areas are high risk.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm a little surprised how low the risks in the Lead Belt appear to be. Something something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it, perhaps?
posted by scruss at 12:06 PM on April 6, 2016


Yeah, it's probably the best extrapolation they can do with the available data but it's weird to see the WA Department of Health involved in something that doesn't really show our local lead legacy.
posted by edeezy at 12:18 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


My neighborhood's only an 8; I was sure we'd pin the needle at 10. 150 year old houses with lead paint and lead pipes, leaded glass and who knows what else.
posted by octothorpe at 12:26 PM on April 6, 2016


I'm a little surprised how low the risks in the Lead Belt appear to be. Something something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it, perhaps?

I bet the levels are quite high it's just outside the methodology here.
posted by atoxyl at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2016


ROU_Xenophobe: If most of your housing was built before 1974, most of your housing has lead paint in it.

And if you live in an urban area of Rhode Island, you're guaranteed to be immersed in a cloud of aerosolized lead dust as long as you stay. :7(

(The curious can search for "Woonsocket, RI" or "Pawtucket, RI" or even "Central Falls, RI" and then notice that the towns on either side -- with newer houses and more affluent residents -- have nothing like the risk. Much of the red in those towns is associated with the old buildings constructed by kinda-benevolent mill owners to house the first waves of workers who labored in The Cradle of America's Industrial Revolution. See also the state'sMuseum of Work & Culture.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:58 PM on April 6, 2016


If most of your housing was built before 1974, most of your housing has lead paint in it.

Hah, most of our housing was built before 1874.
posted by octothorpe at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2016


Okay, I know my place was built long before 1974 (I first drove by it and noticed it IN 1974), but it has been repainted at least twice before I moved here 10 years ago (any lead is sealed under multiple layers I guess). And this sparsely-populated census tract gets a bright blue "2", just south of where all of "downtown" San Luis Obispo gets a "9" and the north end of town with the campus of Cal Poly U. gets a "10"... that may help explain the recent resurgence of Frat Boy idiocy. Still, Central SLO sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the county, including the beach towns of Pismo and Morro and the inland wine country... good to know the wine is safe. And yet, my water, from a local well and not the city system, tastes bad enough for me to be a frequent purchaser of Crystal Geyser (the lowest-priced bottled Really From A Spring water in California).
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:38 PM on April 6, 2016


deadaluspark: hey, we live in the same neighborhood! Eastside Oly represent. :) My house was built in 1974, so I'm not too worried, though. And unless there's something awful going on with the pipe at the artesian well, it shouldn't be a problem.
posted by epersonae at 5:18 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Live in a 3 in Tacoma, but work in a 7, sometimes around old ships and older buildings being taken apart. I don't know what the grade means numerically, but overall I'd estimate average my risk as about a 30. (I have to get blood tested for lead every several months)
posted by ctmf at 7:45 PM on April 6, 2016


My neighborhood is 10, which makes sense since it's one of Portland's oldest. My house was builit in 1900.

That means there is essentially no chance of original paint not being painted over, right? Seems like the biggest risk currently would be a house whose last repainting was in 1973 or before. Which also seems very unlikely.
posted by msalt at 9:59 PM on April 6, 2016


My place is a 10, but given that I LITERALLY live in an old paint factory, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:03 AM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm just outside Salt Lake and my numbers a nice blue "3", which I guess is good, but what do the risk numbers mean?
posted by Mrjaysoh at 3:46 AM on April 8, 2016


Not as dangerous as lead, but :
Lawsuits Charge that 3M Knew About the Dangers of Its Chemicals
posted by jeffburdges at 8:49 AM on April 11, 2016








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