The Flint Water Crisis exposed a couple major problems that we are facing: the overwhelming presence of lead in US drinking water and the reluctance of some administrators to test.
The Presence of Lead in US Drinking Water
There is no denying that there was a major lead problem in Flint. One water test showed lead levels of 13,000 ppb. The EPA action level for lead in drinking water is 15 ppb. To put that in perspective, Flint’s water (from this test) was 866 X the EPA action level for lead in drinking water.
Although Flint has gotten the lion’s share of media attention regarding lead in drinking water, it is by no means the only city with this problem or even the worst of the bunch. Cities and schools throughout the ENTIRE country are served water through lead pipes, which inevitably results in lead leaching into their drinking water. The EPA estimates that there are 10 million schools, buildings and homes throughout the country that are served water through lead service lines.
The Reluctance of some Administrators to Test
We are contacted every day by concerned parents asking if we’ve tested their child’s school for lead and ask us to contact their school to see if we can test it.
Typically, when we reach out to these schools, we hear a common response “we use city water and it’s tested regularly by the city- so, we’re fine.” Or in other words, buzz off.
I assume that this answer is passed from the city to the school. However, this logic is fundamentally flawed.
When a city periodically tests water for lead it only tests at a select few locations within the city. These water samples give the city a small representation of the lead levels in these specific locations, not the lead levels at each of the water sources in the school.
Water picks up lead in the distribution system on the way to the school and inside of the school. The water follows a different path through lead service lines, plumbing, past solder and into each of the fixtures in the school.
When we test school’s drinking water sources for lead, every source tested comes back with a high degree of variability in levels of lead within each school, hallway and even neighboring fountains.
School administrators are not experts in civil engineering or hydrology. It’s important to educate school administrators on the lead problem including the cause, size, scope and potential health impacts to students.
Encourage Administrators to Proactively Test:
It’s important for schools to proactively test for lead in their drinking water vs only testing when forced by Federal or state mandates. It seems that most school districts that test their drinking water sources identify at least one or two old water sources that can be removed or replaced, which makes for a safer learning environment for all students and faculty.
Solve the Problem:
If you find a water source with elevated levels, remediate the problem. Typically, schools can accomplish this by simply placing a filter on an old fountain or replacing it with a new one.
There is no reason for school administrators to be reluctant to test their school’s water for lead. I understand that they may be weary of finding lead and having to spend limited money on replacing old fixtures. But, isn’t spending a few dollars to know the truth and fixing a couple problem fountains far better than the alternative?
At the end of the day, people just want to be able to trust that their city officials and school administrators to have their best interest in mind.
I believe that through education, we can move the needle and get more school administrators to understand the importance of proactively testing their schools for lead, which will only serve to build trust and confidence within their communities.