Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Inconsistent Water Testing Exposes U.S. Schoolchildren to High Levels of Lead

Health + Wellness
Cavan Images / Getty Images

Millions of children across the U.S. have been exposed to high concentrations of lead through their school drinking water due to inconsistent testing standards, a recent study found.

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.


Moreover, the study revealed that 44 percent of nearly 11,000 schools had at least one sample test positive for lead levels at or above state action levels.

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Commuters arrive at Grand Central Station with Metro-North during morning rush hour on June 8, 2020 in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP / Getty Images

By Taison Bell

"Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots" – Wall Street Journal

This is a headline I hoped to not see again after the number of coronavirus infections had finally started to decline in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. However, the pandemic has now shifted to the South and the West – with Arizona, Florida, California and Texas as hot spots.

Read More Show Less
Trump first announces his proposed rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act in January. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced the final rollback of the "Magna Carta" of U.S. environmental laws on Wednesday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
These seven cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired the author's family. LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

By Zahida Sherman

Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.

Read More Show Less
Hand sanitizer is offered to students during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded its list of potentially toxic hand sanitizers to avoid because they could be contaminated with methanol.

Read More Show Less
Over the next couple of weeks, crews will fully remove the 125-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall dam, allowing the Middle Fork Nooksack to run free for the first time in 60 years. Ctyonahl / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Tara Lohan

The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.

Read More Show Less
A man observes a flooded stretch of Dock Street in Annapolis, Maryland on Jan. 25, 2010. Matt Rath / Chesapeake Bay Program

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Tuesday that a trend of increased coastal flooding will continue to worsen as the climate crisis escalates.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jessica Fanzo and Dr. Rebecca McLaren

By Katie Howell

A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.

Read More Show Less