Why Is One Waco Zip Code Seeing Elevated Lead Levels?

Lead exposure is concentrated in a part of town with a large number of older homes.

By Michael MarksMay 3, 2017 10:49 am

The risks of lead poisoning are well-known. Exposure to lead can cause brain damage and behavioral disorders, as well as other ailments like kidney failure. Lead exposure is particularly dangerous for children.

Places like Flint, Michigan have grabbed headlines for catastrophic levels of lead exposure. But it’s a problem in central Texas, too. Using data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Waco Tribune-Herald found that nearly 17 percent of children in the area who were tested had elevated levels of lead in their blood – nearly double the state average.

J.B. Smith, a reporter with the Waco Tribune-Herald wrote about elevated lead levels in north Waco. He says lead levels are highest in one Waco zip code.

“The particular zip code where there’s a problem is in north Waco, where two-thirds of the houses were built before 1960,” Smith says. “I live in one of those houses, and most of them have lead paint, and most of them have some risk of lead paint exposure.”

Unlike Flint, where lead was delivered to residents via their water pipes after the city began using a more acidic water source, Smith says the data indicates that lead in Waco comes from the paint used on older homes.

“We don’t have lead pipes in the city system, as far as we know, and our water pH is at a level where leaching is not a big risk,” Smith says.

Smith says the 76707 zip code contains the largest trove of old and historic homes in Waco.

“I would hope this isn’t a cause for alarm, that would cause people not to renovate those houses,” he says. “There [are] ways to renovate houses that reduce the risk.”

When lead risk is high, Smith says the EPA and Centers for Disease Control recommend wet mopping frequently, and not scraping or cutting into lead paint without a certified lead contractor.

“You should call before you scrape,” Smith says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.