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Sunday, February 07, 2021

Parents worry about the wrong things

I appreciated this Emily Oster post assuring parents that they don't need to worry about heavy metals in baby food.

Among Oster's other points is that there's a much bigger heavy metal problem, that really is real: lead in drinking water.

I raised my kids in a brownstone in Brooklyn, and most old buildings like that have lead solder in their pipes that leaches lead into water over time. The solution is to always run the cold water until it's as cold as the outside -- 30 seconds or so -- before using it for drinking or cooking. 

What was surprising to me was that so few other helicopter-ish parents in Brooklyn seemed to be aware of this problem. We had our water tested as soon as we moved in, and sure enough, there was lead in the water if it had been sitting in the pipes, and no lead if we let it run 30 seconds first. This must be the case for hundreds of thousands of homes in NYC. But there was zero government messaging around that, no pushing program to encourage replacing pipes or other mitigation, etc.

And while one data point isn't "data", a family we knew really did discover that their child had lead poisoning, presumably from their home (though perhaps from playing in the dirt in the backyard, since many brownstones for decades disposed of their coal ash by burying it in the backyard).

Meanwhile, parents were super tuned in to kidnapping fears and you'd almost never see a 10 year old taking the subway alone.

I just think there are massively misplaced priorities.

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