Medical science now confirms that even low levels of lead can cause permanent damage to our children. According to EPA’s Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water, “In children, low levels of [lead] exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.”
Of particular alarm for schools, the data now links low lead levels with long-term loss of learning in our children. For example, a Wisconsin study entitled Regulatory Vacuum’ Exposes Wisconsin Children to Lead in Drinking Water at Schools, Day Care Centers found that 3,757 fourth-graders with relatively low lead levels in their blood “scored significantly lower on reading and math tests than those without elevated blood-lead levels”- an adverse effect that persisted for these children seven to eight years later.
Northern Virginia schools underwent intensive water testing before the start of the 2016-2017 school year. I will use the results from Jamestown Elementary School to illustrate how testing results can be misleading and misused.
As you can see below, testing was conducted twice—once when the device was immediately turned on and a second time after the device was “flushed”—in some instances the results vary dramatically. In the report Get the Lead Out: Ensuring Safe Drinking Water for Our Children at School, the technique described as pre-stagnation flushing (the second water test done at Jamestown) “can artificially lower lead levels in test samples because it removes the water, which was sitting stagnant in lead service lines or other lead-laden plumbing, and this extended period of time is when lead typically leaches into the water. With these considerations in mind, EPA is now recommending against the use of pre-stagnation flushing in testing water for lead.” Therefore, the second column are a misleading tests as students who first take a drink of water out of these water sources will ingest large amounts of lead.
An even more glaring problem with this testing is remediation action levels taken by the school. In this case, the school did not remediate a water source unless it tested above 15ppb (parts per billion). Why are schools so stuck on this level? The EPA states low levels of lead exposure for children is dangerous; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends remediation action for levels testing above 1ppb; and most importantly Washington, D.C. is implementing required action levels for any water source testing above 1ppb. In this example, children who literally go to school across the river are exposed to more lead because their school’s remediation level is higher than schools mere miles away. How is this fair to families and children? Look closely at this graphic and you will see that water sources that tested above 1ppb on the first draw at Jamestown Elementary School is 69 out of 109—63%. The number of water sources remediated after the testing is 19—only 17%.
What is going on here? We believe that ultimately parents and school districts are trying to help children and do the right thing but a barrage of conflicting information and misguided policies result in children’s continued exposure to toxic levels of lead. FACT is a resource to assist in educating the public and advising on effective polices. Most of all FACT wants to proactively assist schools in providing lead-free drinking water from sources that are NSF certified and filtered to keep out lead. We invite you to contact FACT if you want your school to participate in our program.