Quantcast

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

"It would be great to see all the candidates join Elizabeth Warren in taking the No Big Ag Money Pledge," said Citizens Regeneration Lobby's Alexis Baden-Mayer. Peter Blanchard / Flickr / ric (CC BY 2.0)

By Andrea Germanos

Food system justice and environmental advocates on Wednesday urged all Democratic presidential hopefuls to follow in the footsteps of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in signing a pledge rejecting campaign cash from food and agribusiness corporations.

Read More
A new study shows the impact Native Americans had on landscapes was "small" compared to what followed by Europeans. The findings provide important takeaway for conservation in New England today, seen above in a view of areas surrounding Rangeley Lakes in Maine. Cappi Thompson / Moment / Getty Images

There's a theory going around that Native Americans actively managed the land the lived on, using controlled burns to clear forests. It turns out that theory is wrong. New research shows that Native Americans barely altered the landscape at all. It was the Europeans who did that, as ZME Science reported.

Read More
Sponsored
Loggers operate in an area of lodgepole pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest on Sept. 13, 2019 in Montana. As climate change makes summers hotter and drier in the Northern Rockies, forests are threatened with increasing wildfire activity, deadly pathogens and insect infestations, including the mountain pine beetle outbreak. The insects have killed more than six million acres of forest across Montana since 2000. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Donald Trump told a crowd at the Davos World Economic Forum Tuesday that the U.S. will join the Forum's 1t.org initiative to restore and conserve one trillion trees around the world, according to The Hill.

Read More
Wild rice flatbread is one of many Native recipes found in Indigikitchen. Indigikitchen

The online cooking show Indigikitchen is providing a platform to help disseminate Indigenous food recipes — while helping eaters recognize their impact on the planet and Native communities.

Read More

On the Solomon Islands, rats and poachers are the two major threats to critically endangered sea turtles. A group of local women have joined forces to help save the animals from extinction.

Read More