Health

Alabama Officials: Report Inaccurately Claims County Has Highest Lead Poisoning Rate In US

| by Nik Bonopartis
A lead warning on a gas pumpA lead warning on a gas pump

A Vox.com report that says one Alabama county has the highest rates of child lead poisoning in the country was blasted by state and local officials, who pointed out major flaws in the report's methodology.

The Vox story claimed almost 60 percent of children living in Houston County, Alabama, had lead poisoning. The problem? Vox used data that sampled only 12 children in a county that is home to 25,557 kids, and did not include a source of the alleged lead poisoning.

Vox's story ignored more complete data showing young children are tested annually, county officials told WDHN, a local TV news station.

"Medicaid requires that one and two-year-olds be screened, so we know all of them are getting [screened], and that's around 2,200 a year, not twelve,” said Corey Kirkland, with the Houston County Health Department.

Vox's report also included a graph that did not indicate the 58.3 percent lead poisoning figure was based on only a dozen tests. As presented, the graph makes it look like 58.3 percent of all children in the county tested positive for lead poisoning, and the language in the story does not make the distinction clear either, saying Houston County has "reported the highest rate of lead poisoning in the nation."

"The report was ... not only misleading, but made what I consider some derogatory comments,” Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver told WDHN, objecting to the story's description of the county as "an unremarkable place."

Leaders in Dothan, Houston County's seat, also said they were unhappy with Vox for drawing conclusions from such a small sample size. In addition, officials said, the Vox report doesn't point out that the Centers for Disease Control -- from which Vox sourced the data -- did not indicate how those five children were poisoned.

By comparing Houston County with Flint, Michigan -- where thousands have been sickened by contaminated water -- Vox misleadingly suggested Houston County's water is compromised, critics charge.

"Therefore, we do not know if the source of the lead poisoning was from drinking water, private wells, copper plumbing, or older homes which usually contain lead based paint," a statement from the City of Dothan reads.

The city pointed to an annual "drinking water quality report" that consistently shows local tap water "meets or exceeds the federal and state requirements for drinking water quality standards."

"Instead of focusing on a small sample size, this annual report is based on findings from all of our 34 wells, which have a 32 million gallons per day capacity, and from the averaged 11.7 million gallons of water per day provided by the Dothan Water System," the city said in its statement. "Therefore, our 2015 study concludes that approximately 4.3 billion gallons of water were pumped, prepared and safely distributed to our citizens in 2014."

Sources: Vox.com, WDHN, WTVY / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

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