health & fitness
By Deb Belt, Patch National Staff | Mar 24, 2019 7:55 pm ET
Most states do little to protect children from lead in school water supplies, a new report says. See VA, DC's grades.
Most states do little to protect children from lead in school water supplies, a new report says. See VA, DC’s grades. (Image via Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON, DC — More than half of U.S. states are doing a terrible job keeping dangerous levels of lead out of school drinking supplies, according to a new report. Virginia received a letter grade of “F” in the “Get the Lead Out” report from public policy researchers, who said most U.S. schools have at least some lead in their water pipes, plumbing and fixtures. The District of Columbia received a “B+” in the report, the highest grade given.

The 22 states that received “F” grades include Michigan, where the long-running Flint water crisis brought national awareness to problems children experience when they’re exposed to lead. Residents of that city of about 100,000 began complaining of discolored and particle-filled water in 2014, but it was more than two years later that the city began replacing its water lines. That project should be completed this year.

A red-flag word for pediatricians, exposure to lead can cause a lifetime of problems for young children, from lower IQs to antisocial and violent behavior.

“The health threat of lead in schools’ water deserves immediate attention from state and local policymakers for two reasons,” the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund wrote in the report.

“First, lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children — impairing how they learn, grow, and behave,” the “Get the Lead Out” report said. “So, we ought to be particularly vigilant against this health threat at schools and pre-schools, where our children spend their days learning and playing.”

The report said that “in all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Only the District of Columbia and the state of Illinois were ranked above average, with letter grades of “B+” and “B,” respectively. California, New York, Oregon, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey got “C+” or “C” grades, and Arizona and Massachusetts both scored a “D.”

Besides Michigan, states that got an “F” were Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Several states don’t require schools and preschools to address the threat of lead in drinking water, according to the report, and most of the handful of states that do “follow flaws in the federal rules — relying on testing instead of prevention and using standards that allow health-threatening levels of lead to persist in our children’s water at school.”

To make schools safer for students, the two policy groups recommend the replacement of drinking water systems that contain lead, including service lines, faucets and fixtures. That takes time, and in the interim, schools should install certified filtration systems to remove lead at every tap used for drinking and cooking. Schools also should regularly test all water outlets and make those reports public, the report said.

“The promise and viability of this ‘get the lead out’ approach can be seen in municipal and voluntary programs across the nation,” the report said, noting efforts in Madison, Wisconsin, and Lansing, Michigan, that have removed all lead service lines from homes. New York City has replaced them in all schools, and Washington, D.C., now requires schools to install certified filters at all outlets used for drinking and cooking at schools.

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