Congress is currently holding hearings calling Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to task for his handling of the Flint water crisis. But Flint isn’t the only city that has been hit with lead-contaminated water. The Atlanta Blackstar recently reported that students at 30 schools in Newark, New Jersey were told to start using bottled water only.
According to a USA Today report, there is a major problem with lead-contaminated water in school facilities. Data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed about 350 water systems that supplied schools and child-care facilities were contaminated with lead.
And the problem could be even more extensive than imagined, since government regulations only require testing at 10 percent of the nation’s schools.
USA Today reports there are several reasons why lead-contaminated water occurs:
Since the government does not mandate testing at education facilities, it happens on a haphazard basis.
- Parents don’t conduct regular testing for high lead levels in children’s blood, so they only discover it when it’s already a problem. USA Today said it is usually done in babies but not school-age children. By the time the effects show up in behavioral problems and slowed academic development, it’s already too late.
- Contaminated water doesn’t only come from the drinking fountain. It can also be found in formula or in food preparation. According to USA Today, another problem is that leaving water pipes unused for long periods of time can cause a buildup of lead particles. School facilities are unused on vacations and weekends.
The USA Today report found schools in Maine and Pennsylvania with extremely high levels of lead poisoning. The lead levels of a sink in one elementary school were so high the water would fit the EPA guidelines for “hazardous waste.”
In an email to USA Today, EPA officials recommended that all schools and daycare centers now start testing for lead poisoning. However, once schools have been notified of the problem, getting them to act can be difficult. The report found some districts had delayed notifying parents of contaminated water. Others said they couldn’t fix the problem because it was too expensive. USA Today reported the Klondike Independent School District, in Lamesa, Texas, said it would cost $600,000 to fix its water system.
But opting not to do anything, while children drink contaminated water, costs society more in the long run. The government ends up picking up the tab for teen pregnancy, an increase in the crime rate and special needs education for children showing the effects of lead poisoning.
“We see learning difficulties, hyperactivity, developmental delays,” said Marcie Billings, a pediatrician with Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Any damage is irreversible.”
Elyse Pivnick, environmental health director with Isles, a community development and environmental organization based in Trenton, N.J., said it’s not a coincidence contaminated water showed up in Newark and Flint, cities with large Black populations.
“While lead levels in children in the suburbs have plummeted, the harsh fact is that minority children in urban communities continue to be poisoned,” Pivnick told The Washington Post. “If you’re a mother in Trenton or Newark, we do not think the problem has been solved.”