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Inconsistent Water Testing Exposes U.S. Schoolchildren to High Levels of Lead
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reviewed 25 state programs for testing for lead in schools' drinking water supply and found that there is no uniformity in states' approaches to develop initiatives to test for lead in school drinking water, action levels or maintaining water quality data — public schools in some states are not even required to perform testing on all drinking water taps.
The World Health Organization warns that "there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe" and research in the U.S. has linked even low levels of lead exposure with health and learning problems in children because of how it affects brain and nervous system development.
"Lead is a neurotoxin, it drops IQ scores, it's linked to aberrant behavior and violence," Howard Kessler, a retired doctor and part of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told The Guardian. "The concern is that while we are not taking much action, children are being damaged on a generational level. We are supposed to provide them with a safe environment, not poison them."
High levels of lead have been found in school tap water since the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan became a national story in 2014, yet there is currently no federal requirement for schools to test water for lead, The Guardian reported, leaving the issue to the states.
Of the 25 states in the Harvard report, researchers found that only 15 have laws or funding allocations for testing water in schools, while 10 have programs that are run through state environmental protection or health agencies. Few states provide funding for lead testing and remediation through school drinking water programs, the study found.
Without federal oversight, there's a wide range of lead contamination action levels at the state level, from 5 parts per billion — the Food and Drug Administration action level for bottled water — to 20 parts per billion, the study found. In Atlanta, for instance, more than half of its public schools had high levels of lead, with some exceeding 15 times the federal limit for drinking systems.
Lead contamination in school drinking water spans the entire country, from urban areas like Detroit, Newark and Chicago, to suburban and rural communities in Maine and Vermont, The Guardian reported. In other words, it's a national public health crisis.
Campaigns to eliminate lead exposure in daily life have been mostly successful, The Guardian reported, as it had all but eliminated led from tin cans, gasoline and paint by the mid-1980s. But lead in drinking water — often from old pipes — went largely unnoticed as subsequent court rulings weakened public health laws requiring lead testing of school water.
"Ensuring that all children have easy and appealing access to lead-safe school drinking water should be a health policy priority for relevant federal and state agencies and will support the promotion of drinking water as a healthy beverage of choice," the authors of the Harvard study wrote.
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If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›