Many of America’s children continue to be poisoned by their local and state governments…because the Federal government won’t listen to its own agency.
Around the country, schools are fighting the effects of environmental toxins in their students’ drinking water. The most notorious example is in Flint Michigan, where the school system has seen a doubling of the number of students needing special services due to lead poisoning and the damage to the developing brain that it causes.
Other pollutants are damaging as well. Mercury, along with cancer-causing dioxins, are released from coal-fired power plants and municipal waste incinerators. The airborne toxins travel to the lungs of children or are absorbed into food and water supplies.
2019 was a bad year for lead…in Flint, Newark, Hammond IN, New York City, Detroit, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Thousands of our nation’s children have had their lives damaged by the toxicity of lead. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us that even the smallest lead level in the blood of children is unsafe.
No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The good news is that childhood lead poisoning is 100% preventable.
Preventing childhood lead exposure is cost-effective.
According to a 2017 report from the Health Impact Project, a federal investment of $80 billion would prevent all U.S. children born in 2018 from having any detectable levels of lead in their blood. This investment has an estimated $83.9 billion in societal benefits, which represents a 5% return on investment. If it cost less than $80 billion to remove lead from the environment, then the cost-benefit ratio would be greater. Additionally, permanently removing lead hazards from the environment would benefit future birth cohorts, and savings would continue to grow over time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics echoes the CDC’s call to completely eliminate lead exposure in children.
The AAP calls for stricter regulations, expanded federal resources and joint action by government officials and pediatricians in the policy statement, “Prevention of Childhood Lead Toxicity,” published in July 2016 Pediatrics. Identifying and eliminating sources before exposure occurs is the only reliable way to protect kids from lead poisoning.
“We now know that there is no safe level of blood lead concentration for children, and the best ‘treatment’ for lead poisoning is to prevent any exposure before it happens,” said Dr. Jennifer Lowry, MD, FAACT, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and an author of the policy statement. “Most existing lead standards fail to protect children. They provide only an illusion of safety. Instead, we need to expand the funding and technical guidance for local and state governments to remove lead hazards from children’s homes, and we need federal standards that will truly protect children.”
Despite what the CDC says, the Federal government recklessly sets the safe level of lead exposure to 15 parts per billion. This gives state governments the excuse to ignore the damage done to America’s children.
How is your state doing?
The United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has joined with the Environment America Research & Policy Center to release a state by state report on lead in drinking water. Each state is graded on its lead eradication policies.
Unfortunately, Indiana’s grade is a big fat F.
This stems from the fact that Indiana uses the Federal 15 ppb standard. In other words, while no amount of lead is safe for human consumption, Indiana won’t address any lead levels in drinking water until it passes fifteen parts per billion. In addition, participation in the lead sampling program does not automatically apply to all schools and child care centers. The state program is voluntary and only K-12 schools can opt-in. Our pre-schools, apparently, are not worth the money.
The report says…
…most states are failing to protect children from lead in schools’ drinking water. Our review of 32 states’ laws and regulations finds:
• Several states have no requirements for schools and pre-schools to address the threat of lead in drinking water; and
• Of the few states with applicable laws, most 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.
Hammond city schools discovered they were above the 15 ppb standard.
A new round of testing has found lead levels in the drinking water at seven northwestern Indiana schools that exceed the federal action level for the toxic metal.
The School City of Hammond’s board heard from a consulting firm Tuesday that drinking water in seven Hammond schools and two other district buildings tested above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lead action level of 15 parts per billion.
Too many states, like Indiana, don’t have a mandatory program to check for lead in the water.
The report, released recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, highlighted how many school districts — 72 percent — are not even inspecting their buildings for lead-based paint hazards. The Government Accountability Office restricted its analysis to school districts that had at least one school built before 1978, and those that obtained drinking water from a public water system.
Among the 12 percent that do inspect for lead hazards, more than half found them. That raises questions about what amount could be found in the remaining 88 percent of schools that aren’t looking.
It’s been five years since the state of Michigan switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The damage done to nearly 30,000 children has now hit the city schools.
The result is enraging. The futures of Flint’s children have been sacrificed to greed. The school system, already overburdened by the effects of poverty in the city, now has to add the impact of increased numbers of children with special needs.
Are we doing enough to eliminate lead from the environment? Not according to this article. We spend billions on testing, but apparently can’t afford to keep our children safe from poisoning. The problem is that most of those who are affected by environmental toxins like lead are poor children of color.
The city of Flint is suffering from the effects of environmental racism.
Five years after Michigan switched Flint’s water supply to the contaminated Flint River from Lake Huron, the city’s lead crisis has migrated from its homes to its schools, where neurological and behavioral problems — real or feared — among students are threatening to overwhelm the education system.
The contamination of this long-struggling city’s water exposed nearly 30,000 schoolchildren to a neurotoxin known to have detrimental effects on children’s developing brains and nervous systems. Requests for special education or behavioral interventions began rising four years ago, when the water contamination became public, bolstering a class-action lawsuit that demanded more resources for Flint’s children.
That lawsuit forced the state to establish the $3 million Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence, which began screening students. The screenings then confirmed a range of disabilities, which have prompted still more requests for intervention.
The percentage of the city’s students who qualify for special education services has nearly doubled, to 28 percent, from 15 percent the year the lead crisis began, and the city’s screening center has received more than 1,300 referrals since December 2018. The results: About 70 percent of the students evaluated have required school accommodations for issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as A.D.H.D.; dyslexia; or mild intellectual impairment, said Katherine Burrell, the associate director of the center.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE COUNTRY
How many thousands of children have been poisoned? How many more will be before we clean things up?
More than half of public schools in Atlanta were found to have high levels of lead, in some cases 15 times above the federal limit for water systems. Schools in Baltimore, Portland and Chicago were all found to have significant amounts of lead in drinking water.
New York City
The numbers continue to point to a significant health risk because there is no safe level of lead in drinking water for children. Simply stated, New York’s action level of 15 ppb is way too high—even test results below 15 ppb present a significant risk for our kids.
The state, however, only requires schools to take action – including notifying parents, shutting down dangerous fountains and conducting more testing – if lead levels exceed 15 ppb. Schools that do detect levels of lead above 15 ppb must take follow-up samples from the place at which the school’s plumbing connects to the community water supply to identify whether tainted water is reaching the school from the outside. As of mid June, 268 California schools reported lead levels above 15 ppb, according to the Water Resources Control Board.
Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai P. Vitti sent a letter to staff to announce that he was ordering drinking fountains at all 106 district campuses turned off after tests found 16 schools with “higher than acceptable” levels of copper or lead in their tap water.
…The shut down of water fountains doesn’t apply to charter schools, but Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, intends to initiate “the same level of” water quality testing at those campuses, Vitta said.
Seven of 22 Newark schools tested this year had levels of lead in some drinking water sources that surpassed federal standards according to data obtained by WNYC/Gothamist. That runs counter to repeated assurances given by school board officials and City Hall that there was no lead in any drinking water at any of the city’s public schools.
As recently as last week, Water Department Director Kareem Adeem reiterated this to a crowd of more than a hundred Newark residents attending a “State of Our Water” town hall event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
“The schools [do] independent testing and they post that testing on their website,” Adeem told the audience. “They don’t have lead in the schools.”
But that’s not the case.
In 2016 — while headlines blared about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan — [Frederick Douglass Elementary School teacher Alison] Marcus’ North Philadelphia charter school raised money to buy bottled water for residents of the distressed Midwestern city. But as she watched students at the charter, run by Mastery, toss change into a large plastic bucket, she felt a pang of guilt.
“I just remember thinking, ‘We should definitely be testing the water here,’” she said in an interview this month.
That’s because Marcus says she and other teachers feared the drinking water at the school wasn’t much better than Flint’s. That same year, for roughly a week, some hallway fountains and sinks spurted a brown liquid that looked more like apple cider than water, according to nine former and current staffers.