After Flint, it’s been disheartening to discover that lead contamination is far more widespread than originally thought. A new investigative report by USA Today claims that 350 schools and day cares across the country have tested above the EPA’s “action level” for lead content in water.
But the problem is much bigger than that report suggests.
The USA Today piece reviews EPA testing data from 2012 to 2015, and some of the examples are scary:
One water sample at a Maine elementary school was 41 times higher while another at a Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher. And a sink in a music-room bathroom at Caroline Elementary tested this year at 5,000 ppb of lead, results released by the school system show.
That’s the cutoff where the EPA labels a substance “hazardous waste.”
But the more concerning aspect of this investigation is that the EPA data only includes a small fraction of schools. The government only requires about 10 percent of the country’s schools to test for lead at all. This is especially troubling because kids are the population most at risk for lead poisoning. It’s being called a “regulatory black hole” by Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, who works with the Virginia Tech team that originally discovered Flint’s water crisis. Lambrinidou has also called for more transparency from cities that are not using EPA-approved testing procedures.
For schools that undergo voluntary testing and discover high levels of lead, the repairs—usually extensive pipe replacement—are expensive for institutions already strapped for cash. But the solution is not simply shutting off drinking fountains and forcing kids to buy pricey bottled water, which is what many schools have been doing.