In light of recent water contamination scandals across the nation, state officials are finally starting to address the issue of water contamination in school buildings. Lead contamination of the water supply is very common, especially in older schools, creating an extremely dangerous situation for children.
As more parents become concerned for their children’s safety, government officials are testing the water in schools to identify instances of lead contamination and address them as soon as possible.
Danger Lurking in Our Water Supply
The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world; however that doesn’t mean that all of our water is safe. In the case of lead, the contamination isn’t occurring in the actual water supply, but is a result of water running through old pipes that are either made entirely of, or soldered with, lead.
Brass pipes or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures that have been joined together using lead solder are the most common pipes containing lead, and when these lead pipes corrode, they leach the toxic metal into the water. Factors that contribute to the corrosion of pipes and fixtures include very hot water and water with high acidity or low mineral content. Water that has to travel farther to get to the faucet is also more susceptible to contamination, due to increased exposure.
Congress banned the use of lead plumbing in 1986, but many buildings have pipes that were installed before the law was passed, and most schools have very old plumbing. Replacing it all would cost a fortune.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood.”[i] Children can be exposed to lead through contact with paint, dust, soil, air and food, but the highest risk of exposure comes from drinking water. “EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.”[ii] Due to this, many schools have placed signs on their drinking fountains advising students not to drink the water.
The Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974 and requires that the EPA determine a level of contaminants that is considered safe for drinking water. When it comes to lead, the EPA decided that the maximum level that is safe for human consumption is zero, because even low levels of the heavy metal are extremely harmful to a person’s health.
Low levels of lead exposure in adults does not have the same effect as it does in children, children who are exposed to lead can suffer damage to their central and peripheral nervous system, can develop learning disabilities, shorter stature, hearing impairment and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
Before Congress took action by passing the Act, the solder used to join pipes contained about 50 percent lead. The Act addressed this by setting a maximum allowable lead content, which is considered “lead free”: For solder and flux, the level must be less than .2 percent; for pipes and fittings, the level must be less than .25 percent. ii
New York to Require Schools to be Tested
In June, the New York Senate passed a bill requiring all schools in every district and BOCES to be tested for lead contamination on a regular basis; New York is the first state to pass this type of bill and require this kind of testing. Schools built after 2014 will be exempt from the bill and schools that test negative will be given waivers from future testing. Schools that have unacceptable levels of lead will be eligible for financial assistance for testing and remediation.[iii] Some schools may even be reimbursed for costs associated with replacing old plumbing.
While critics say that state and local authorities have been to slow to begin testing for lead in school water systems, the good news is that more states are beginning to test water supplies proactively. Schools with water systems affected by lead contamination will require immediate remediation, which could include installing filters, using bottled water or replacing the plumbing.
Replacing the entire plumbing system of a school would cost millions of dollars, money that most schools don’t have available. Accordingly, the schools that can’t afford major repairs are looking for alternative ways to reduce levels of lead contamination. In response to public pressure, the federal Department of Education and other government agencies will in all likelihood find a way to fund contracts that will source the products and services needed to help rid schools of the lead in their water systems.Danielle Calamaras | BidNet.com
[i] N.p. EPA US Environmental Protection Agency. Lead in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities. Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water. 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 2 Aug. 2016
[ii] N.p. EPA US Environmental Protection Agency. Lead in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities. Health Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water. 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 2 Aug. 2016
[iii] N.p. The New York State Senate. Nysenate.gov. Senate Passes Bill to Ensure School Water is Tested for Lead. 16 June 2016. Web. 2 Aug. 2016