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Report: "Pervasive" Threats of Lead in School Drinking Water

A new report gives Washington, D.C., a "B" grade for facing problems with lead in school drinking water, and says many states are lagging. (Jeff Turner/Flickr)
A new report gives Washington, D.C., a "B" grade for facing problems with lead in school drinking water, and says many states are lagging. (Jeff Turner/Flickr)
February 20, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a new report says lead in schools' drinking water is a pervasive problem. The District of Columbia received the best grade in the report - a "B" - for facing the issue, in part because of a proposal likely to pass the city council.

But the bill's sponsor, D.C. councilwoman Mary Chen, said the problem is far from solved.

"Even just last week, the parents of one school here, J.O. Wilson Elementary, got a letter from the school system reporting that there were elevated lead levels found one month ago,” Chen said.

Even before the problems in Flint, D.C. had been battling lead in its own water supply. The new report, "Get the Lead Out," said the problem is widespread in schools. Although the study did not include West Virginia, incidents such as the 2014 Elk River chemical spill have affected many facilities that serve children.

Environment America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group are launching a campaign to prompt state and local officials to eliminate lead in drinking water at schools, focusing on 16 states. Yanna Lambrinidou, a researcher at Virginia Tech and a national expert on lead and drinking water, said 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,” Lambinidou said.

The report called for schools to remove lead service lines, including lead-bearing parts, and install and maintain water filters. It also urged school districts to be proactive in taking these steps before testing shows elevated lead levels.

Report co-author John Rumpler, Clean Water Program director with the group Environment America, said kids' health is at stake.

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

D.C. scored the highest in the study for its steps so far to remove lead from school drinking water. Out of 16 states in the report, 12 got failing grades.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV