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Plumbum (Pb)

The plumbing system reaches its widespread use during the ancient Rome period, which saw the introduction of an expansive system of aqueducts, wastewater removal, and widespread use of lead pipes. Romans built a water channel that carried water from the mountain into the city, which was distributed through an underground supply line made of lead. This is where the term plumbing originated as “Plumbus” in Latin mean lead.

The danger of lead poisoning was already being reported as early as 14 B.C by the Roman architect, Vitruvius. Later, similar cases of lead poisoning were being reported through time from Europe and the US. However, even with the danger of lead becoming increasingly obvious, the warning signs continued to be ignored.

In 1920 many cities and towns in the US were prohibiting or restricting the use of lead material, but an organization called LIA (Lead Industry Association) managed to carry out an effective campaign to prolonged and promoted the use of lead-based material for paint, plumbing, and gas. This movement also supported by the professional plumbers because the installation of lead fixture and pipes required expertise that other did not possess. To maintain the sales of lead material, the LIA lobbied the government at all levels and targeted the people who both designed and installed water distribution systems with educational material and other resources at least until the 1970s.

Today, even after lead being banned, the leftover lead still presents in our environment, the poison still lingers in our soil, dust and chipped from deteriorating house paint and lead-soldered pipes of an aging house. There are strategies to mitigate these exposure risks in the short term such as internal corrosion control, flushing, and filtering; but the only long-term solution is to replace all the lead pipe with other alternative materials such as copper, PVP, CPVC, or PEX pipes.

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Redraw of Sources of Lead in Drinking Water

Sources: EPA. Source of Lead in Drinking Water. PDF File. May 2, 2021.
  1. Sohn, Emily. Lead: Versatile Metal, Long Legacy. Dartmouth. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  2. Lead Service Line. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, May 2, 2021.
  3. Plumbing. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, April 20, 2021.
  4. Rabin, Richard. “The Lead Industry and Lead Water Pipes “A MODEST CAMPAIGN.” American Journal of Public Health 98, no. 9 (2008): 1584–92.