In the United States, many public schools still do not have safe water for students to drink, despite extensive testing, policy changes, and infrastructure replacement over the last few years. This means that many children are exposed to lead at school, which can harm their health, even in small amounts, with effects on the brain and nervous system. Studies tie elevated lead levels to a lower IQ, decreased focus, and even violent crime and delinquency. This persistent threat is affecting students at the same time as they are trying to recover from pandemic-related school closures, as well as created and natural disasters.
Source: CBS News/Youtube
A new report, “Get the Lead Out,” published by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the U.S PIRG Education Fund, urges state and federal policymakers to address lead exposure at school, to which kids are especially vulnerable. The report’s authors, John Rumpler and Matt Casale, highlight that lead exposure, including from school water fountains and taps, can harm children’s health. They are urging policymakers to reject the “test-and-fix paradigm” and enact long-term solutions to the issue.
The report grades states and jurisdictions based on policies and regulations in place to address lead in schools. The grade each state received depends on how frequently sites are tested, the type of fixes that are required, and how information about testing and fixes is shared with the public. Washington D.C. scored the top grade with a B+, followed by New Hampshire and New Jersey each with a B-. Everywhere else ended up with a failing grade.
Several states have made some improvements in getting kids safe drinking water over the last few years. Still, the report’s authors found that current policies on lead in water at school are still “too weak” to protect children’s health. They recommend several ways states and districts can tackle the problem, including replacing fountains with water stations that have filters certified to remove lead, installing, testing, and maintaining filters certified to remove lead on all taps used for drinking or cooking, and setting policies to ensure that schools are no longer using plumbing and fixtures that leach lead into water.
The report also urges the federal government to provide additional funding to schools and states to address the problem. While this is a critical step, schools don’t have to wait for policy change and can use federal COVID-relief dollars to “get the lead out.”
The persistent issue of lead-tainted water in American schools is a significant problem that requires urgent action. State and federal policymakers must prioritize the health and safety of students by addressing lead exposure at school. The report’s recommendations are essential steps towards a long-term solution to this issue. It’s time for everyone to take action and work towards a safer and healthier future for our children.
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