More Than a Third of Schools Tested Have ‘Elevated Levels’ of Lead in Drinking Water
A troubling new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more than a third of the nation's schools that tested their water for lead found "elevated levels" of the neurotoxin. But despite heightened concern in recent years about lead in drinking water, more than 40 percent of schools surveyed conducted no lead testing in 2016.
According to the GAO's nationwide survey, roughly 43 percent of school districts, serving 35 million students, tested for lead in 2016. Of the districts that tested, 37 percent found lead at levels above the threshold the districts set for taking remedial action. All the districts that found elevated levels reported taking steps to lower lead, such as installing filters, replacing old water fountains, and providing students and employees with bottled water.
The GAO said that 41 percent of schools, serving about 12 million students, did not test for lead in 2016. Sixteen percent of schools said they did not know if they had tested. No federal law requires lead testing in schools, and the GAO said only eight states require testing.
"This report should shock every member of Congress and jolt acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler into action," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. "In the richest country on Earth, none of our children should be attending schools where the drinking water is contaminated with a heavy metal that causes brain damage."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set its so-called action level of 15 parts per billion, or ppb, for lead in tap water from public water systems decades ago. It is not based on a safe exposure level for children, but was instead set to monitor a water system's efforts to manage water corrosivity and minimize lead leaching from old pipes. Shockingly, for school water systems, the EPA's action level for lead is 20 ppb, or one-third higher than the action level for public water systems.
In 2009, California set a public health goal for lead in drinking water at 0.2 ppb to protect against harms to the brains and nervous systems of children. This health guideline, which is not enforceable, was based on studies of children showing that an increase of one microgram of lead per deciliter of blood was correlated with a decrease of one IQ point.
EWG urges the federal government to set a protective legal limit for lead in drinking water, as it does for other water contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA should require more aggressive action to monitor both schools and homes for lead contamination, and compel water companies to speed up their plans to replace water service lines.
"Instead of working to deplete the EPA's resources and authority to protect public health at the behest of polluters, President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler should demand that the agency gets whatever it needs from Congress to reduce the threat of lead in our drinking water," said Cook.
Last year, EWG released a searchable national drinking water database that provides information about contamination in the tap water of virtually every American. The GAO's report also provides guidance on what people can do to protect themselves and their families from the risks from lead in drinking water.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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