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Getting the Lead Out of Illinois Schools’ Drinking Water

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A new report gives Illinois a 'D' grade for efforts to reduce lead in drinking water, although recent actions have been taken. (dmsschools.org)
A new report gives Illinois a 'D' grade for efforts to reduce lead in drinking water, although recent actions have been taken. (dmsschools.org)
February 16, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., a new report says lead in schools' drinking water is a pervasive problem – and it gives Illinois a 'D' grade for policies to address the issue.

The Environment America Research and Policy Center and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), are launching campaign called Get the Lead Out to prompt state and local officials to eliminate lead in drinking water at schools. The focus is on 16 states, including Illinois.

Yanna Lambrinidou, a Virginia Tech researcher and a national expert on lead in drinking water, says older school buildings are especially vulnerable to corrosion in pipes.

"When water sits in plumbing for a prolonged period of time, it has the opportunity to absorb more lead from the lead-bearing plumbing than if it just kept moving through the pipes," she explains.

Illinois has taken action recently. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation last month requiring every elementary school and daycare center in the state built before 1987 to test drinking water by the end of this year, and those built before the year 2000 to do it by the end of 2018.

John Rumpler, Clean Water Program director for Environment America and the report’s co-author, says more needs to be done, because lead is affecting children's health.

"It is estimated that 24 million children across the country will lose IQ points due to low levels of lead exposure,” he states. “That is a really serious, widespread problem, not just a few cities, all across the country."

The report calls for schools to remove lead service lines, including lead-bearing parts, and install and maintain water filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation. It also urges school districts to be proactive and take these steps before testing shows lead levels too high to be considered safe for children.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL