Lead In Public School Drinking Water
Children in our public schools are at risk. It’s not just a Flint problem.
2017 water regulation kicked off with a big announcement in California that public schools would have new resources available to them for testing their water fountains for lead and other harmful water contaminants that affect children's health. (Press Release Here.)
If you aren’t yet keenly aware of the Flint water crisis and the role lead plays, here’s a quick recap:
- In April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan made a money-saving measure by switching from the Detroit water supply to the Flint River water supply.
- Michigan health officials have since disclosed that all children that drank Flint’s water since April 2014 and before the switch back to the Detroit water supply have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead.
- The Michigan state government did not intervene for 1.5 years until October 2015, when it switched Flint’s water from the Flint River source back to the Detroit water supply.
- Michigan Governor Rick Snyder didn’t declare a State of Emergency until January 5, 2016.
- The National Guard was brought in on January 12, 2016 to distribute bottled water, home filters, and additional aid.
- The process is ongoing and relief efforts continue, both through the intervention of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state and local government, and citizen response.
- Despite these efforts, the people of Flint remain in danger.
Source: Sue Cline , Flickr
As mentioned, lead poisoning from drinking water is not isolated to Flint, Michigan — it’s a very real problem that persists throughout the United States, and our children aren’t even safe in their own schools.
In fact, recent water tests are flagging public schools all across the nation for unhealthy lead levels, as it becomes increasingly obvious that aging school infrastructure threatens the youngest among us and poses a substantial public health danger.
Data CNBC recently obtained from the EPA shows that just nine states currently report lead levels that don’t violate drinking water standards (only Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas are in the clear). Within the last three years, a total of 41 states had ALEs (Action Level Exceedances) of lead, meaning these states possess levels that violate drinking water standards.
What exactly is an unhealthy level of lead in our children’s drinking water, and why is lead so harmful to children in the first place?
Why is Lead So Harmful to Children?
Even small levels of lead can cause serious health problems. Just how small?
Any amount, potentially.
That’s right. Under the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA outlined maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs) for known contaminants in drinking water. The MCLG is meant to indicate the maximum level at which a contaminant can be present in drinking water before an adverse health effect is likely to occur. Lead’s MCLG is zero.
Available science demonstrates there’s no safe level of exposure to lead for any individual. However, children are particularly at risk for serious adverse health effects because they are still developing critical brain and bodily functions.
Lead can slowly build up in the body over time without any detectable symptoms — it is only once high amounts of lead have accumulated in the body that symptoms often crop up. This makes it difficult for parents and doctors to see if children are subject to long term lead poisoning until they have consumed dangerous and health-impacting amounts.
Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:
- Learning issues
- Developmental delays
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Irritability and fatigue
- Abdominal discomfort
- Hearing loss
Such severe health risks from lead poisoning are all the more frightening as more and more schools are revealing drinking water with lead concentrations above the MCLG of zero.
Lead Threatens Schools Across America
Lead primarily threatens school drinking water supplies through corrosion due to aging infrastructure. Old lead service pipes, fixtures, and solder can undergo chemical reactions with acidic or low-mineral level water. This reaction results in lead dissolving and entering the drinking water supply supply, thereby potentially poisoning students.
More than 400 of the approximately 7,000 American schools subject to theLead and Copper Rule have reported heightened lead levels from 2012 into 2015, according to the EPA.
“The Flint water crisis is extreme, but it’s not the only case of lead-contaminated tap water in America. Lead problems exist across the nation, but deficient data reporting, often nonexistent state oversight and an utter lack of accountability by state and federal governments keeps the widespread problem of lead in drinking water largely out of sight,” says Erik Olson,senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Here’s a primer on just a few of the school districts affected:
- New Jersey schools have been ordered by Governor Chris Christie as of July 2016 to conduct mandatory lead water tests within a year. This comes after several school districts found elevated lead levels in their drinking water. Further, a NJ Advance Media survey of 50 N.J. school districts discovered that a number of schools had not tested their drinking water since as far back as 1993.
- With 30 schools in Newark, NJ alone showing elevated lead levels in their water, John Abeigon of the Newark Teachers Union called the situation a“mini-Flint.”
- Following the discovery of unsuitably high lead levels in water fountains at a dozen schools in 2015, the D.C. Council is opening an inquiry into proper lead water testing and response.
- After a pilot testing program discovered lead in multiple school fountains at Tanner Elementary in May, Chicago Public Schools announced a lead water testing program for all 660 charter- and district-run schools, with a focus on pre-kindergarten institutions.
The above are just a few examples of the many schools and regions nation-wide that face threats posed by lead in our drinking water.
While U.S. public schools have their own battle to fight, you can help ensure that your children are safe in their own home with SimpleWater’s Tap Score home water test. Our clear test checks for lead and over 100 other contaminants in your well or municipal water, and ultimately provides you with a complete, easy-to-understand water report with actionable, personalized recommendations.
Schools in California Begin New Program For Testing Tap Water For Lead
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