Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Richard Monaco makes this connection in New York City (NYC). This current event was reported in the Brooklyn Paper on February 1, 2017 under the title, Dangerous levels of lead found in Bay Ridge Middle School’s drinking water by Caroline Spivack. This story is backed up by an article by the Daily News which mentions the Bay Ridge middle school and it’s elevated lead levels.

The news about lead levels relates to WRE in the area of municipal water distribution systems. This is important to us, because as humans our lives are centered around water. From the dawn of civilization, mankind has established tribes and cities where there is access to water. Water is essential to life, and it becomes an issue when this water isn’t safe to drink. And as Engineers, the safety, health and general welfare of the public must be held paramount. However as important as this is, in order to correct the problem, we must know what caused it (which unfortunately isn’t outright stated in the Brooklyn Paper article).

NYC is a very diverse city socio-economically speaking. From the poorest of the poor, to those who can afford to live in a penthouse apartment that overlooks central park, NYC is home to these, and everyone in-between. This is to the point where you’ll have areas that are inundated with wealth, while across the street will be low income housing and many people who live barely above, or even below the poverty line. Before the age of regulation, NYC came to be very dirty and polluted, as well as a very smoggy city. Figure 1 shows an image of the Manhattan skyline during a specific event known as the “1966 New York City Smog”. Lead levels relate to environmental issues under the scope of environmental health (more specifically, the environment around humans, and how does it affect human health). This specific case doesn’t necessarily relate to the socio-economic issues, however in the case of Flint Michigan we have an example of elevated lead levels in an area that is both poor (41.2% of residents live below the poverty line) and predominantly (56.6%) African-American (Library). As this crisis unfolded on the national stage the issue was raised of the old pipes in the neighborhood that were never replaced at the end of their life expectancy, and if it had to do with the socio-economic background of the citizens. Mandour et al.(2013) reported on the correlation between lead levels in drinking water, and lead levels found in mothers’ breast milk. Fifty-two drinking water samples, and fifty-two breast milk samples were taken. A positive relationship between lead levels in the water, and lead levels in the milk was found (Mandour, Ghanem and El-Azab 251-256). This effect from the environment of course has a negative affect on the health of not only the mothers who drink the water, but their infants who drink their mother’s milk (not to mention everybody else who is subject to drinking the lead contaminated water).

Figure 1. 1966 NYC Smog as seen from the Empire State Building

Reference:

Library, CNN. “Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts – CNN.Com”. CNN. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Mandour, Raafat A., Abdel-Aziz Ghanem, and Somaia M. El-Azab. “Correlation Between Lead Levels In Drinking Water And Mothers’ Breast Milk: Dakahlia, Egypt”. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 35.2 (2012): 251-256. Web.

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