Study: lead in school water still a problem nationwide
(District of Columbia) Many states are still failing to eliminate lead from school drinking water, often because of flawed policies governing testing and equipment upgrades, according to a new report from the D.C.-based Environment America Research & Policy Center.
Researchers reviewed the laws and regulations of 31 states and the District of Columbia. Letter grades were assigned based on criteria including, among other things, if schools are required to proactively remove lead from water delivery systems, or only required to take action if contamination is discovered.
“As more schools test their water, they are finding lead,” Emma Dietz, a co-author of the report, said in a statement. “So waiting for more tests to confirm that our children are drinking water laced with lead is unconscionable. It’s time to shift our approach from reactive to proactive.”
According to a 2015 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of U.S. children are estimated to have been adversely affected by lead over the last 20 years.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can attack the brain and nervous system causing coma, seizures or even death when high levels get into the human body. Research shows that children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their rapidly developing bodies and nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead.
Lead exposure in children can lead to impaired memory and self-control, increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other attention issues, delayed in development of language skills and hearing loss, among other challenges.
Often found in old, peeling paint, contaminated soil or water that's passed through corroded lead-bearing pipes, exposure to lead can negatively impact children in a variety of ways even if they are exposed to only small amounts.
Authors of the new report included in their grading of state policies what level of lead triggers mandatory remedial action. They looked at whether the states surveyed limit lead to concentrations of 1 part per billion or less, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Only Illinois met that standard, researchers found–meanwhile, 15 states used 15 ppb per 1 liter sample or 20 ppb per 250 mL sample as their threshold. Thirteen states had no policy at all dictating an amount of lead that would trigger mandatory remedial action.
Researchers also examined if lead testing is required in schools, and if so, how the tests are conducted, and how often. The highest score went to states that require testing for worst-case results—meaning they use several samples per tap, and prohibit sampling protocols known to hide lead.
Only seven states had such a mandate.
All states surveyed require at least some form of testing, but nine states received lower scores for only testing every few years or not testing all faucets or fountains used for drinking or cooking.
Most points were doled out to states that required schools to proactively remove lead from water delivery systems by replacing fountains, faucets and other lead-bearing parts, as well as installing filters certified to remove lead at every outlet used for drinking or cooking.
Only D.C. received points for that criteria.
Meanwhile, three states required such steps only if higher than acceptable levels of lead were found during testing, and seven states required some remediation, but with broad discretion allowed.
Overall, the District of Columbia and Illinois received the highest letter grades of B+ and B- respectively, while 20 states received an F grade.
There was some good news in the report, however, as researchers noted that some are at least starting to remediate the issue aggressively.
Illinois, for example, received a D grade when the survey of state policies was conducted in 2017, but jumped to a B- this year because its public health agency now requires schools to take action on any level of lead detected.
Over the same time period, California and Oregon both went from an F to a C+, and Maryland jumped from an F to a C. Authors of the report said that Montana, Pennsylvania, Washington, Massachusetts and Vermont could also see improved grades if currently pending legislation or regulations are adopted.