New Orleans The water crisis in Flint, Michigan seemed like a wakeup for America and the world. Lead was in the water. People couldn’t drink it. The damage to children – and adults – was incalculable. Lead was found in other schools in the country when districts began testing, like Newark, New Jersey for example.
Local 100, United Labor Unions, represents school workers in Dallas and Houston, so of course we demanded they test the water for the sake of both the workers and children. These are huge school districts. The adverse impacts would be devastating. Despite Flint, Newark and other districts, we’re caught in a crisis of incrementalism. So far we have gotten the Houston district to test perhaps five schools build before a certain date. Hardly a comprehensive program. Dallas is dragging their feet even more, despite proven cases where our workers were employed in a records storage area that was an old auto facility and where lead and other heavy metals have been documented in abundance.
Some big districts have been more responsive. After a minimal test in Chicago schools showed some problems, the Chicago Public Schools hired four different contractors to test widely. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune:
CPS said water has been tested at 265 of 324 schools that are more than 30 years old and have prekindergarten programs. Results have only been returned for 87 schools. Of those, the district said 26 schools had at least one fixture that spouted water with lead amounts in excess of 15 parts per billion. Test results have shown a wide variety of lead levels were detected in water across the city’s schools. Water from one sink at a Clearing neighborhood school for disabled children between the ages of 3 and 6 showed lead levels as high as 1,100 parts per billion — a water fountain at the building tested as high as 357 parts per billion, according to the district. Four drinking fountains and four sinks at Reilly Elementary on the Northwest Side showed high lead levels, including a water fountain on the school’s main floor that tested as high as 340 parts per billion.
Chicago is hardly the gold standard, but at least they are playing catchup. Talking to experts, the Madison, Wisconsin school district has reportedly replaced all of their lead pipes over the years in order to proactively deal with this issue in a comprehensive way.
Keep in mind that the EPA requires bottled water to not exceed 5 parts per billion and lead experts are clear that this 15 parts per billion is just plain pretend when it comes to prevent or the damage of exposure.
National expert, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, was quoted clearly in the Tribune
“You cannot undo harm that’s been done in the past, that’s the nature of lead exposure. You can only prevent future exposure. So the sooner you get the bad news, that’s good news.” Edwards wasn’t surprised by the number of CPS buildings that have shown elevated levels of water-based lead so far. “Nothing would ever surprise me in terms of lead in school water, because (schools) have generally the oldest plumbing and the water sits around for long periods of time,” Edwards said. “That makes it more corrosive, it allows more lead particles to accumulate and in many cities the schools are the source of the worst lead in water for those reasons.”
Local 100 has also gathered soil samples from schools in Dallas and Houston and are waiting for the results. What good does it do any of us for school districts, city officials, sewer and water providers, and others to resist the testing to find out the “bad news” so we can began to protect people?
No one is pointing fingers but why the false security, the cover-ups, and obfuscation? It’s time to do the work and prevent more permanently damaging impacts for our children and workers in schools.