Kids, Don’t Drink the Water

The following post is from the BlueGreen Alliance’s Executive Director Kim Glas.

Growing up, I remember the white porcelain water fountains that dotted my elementary school (later we graduated to the metal ones at our much newer high school). I drank from them every day. It never occurred to me that there might be poisons in that water — be it lead or other chemicals. This was America. I was at school. Of course it was safe.

Today, we live in a different time — almost a different reality. Kids in schools all around our country aren’t drinking water out of fountains and school cooks aren’t even using the school’s water for cooking. They’re using bottled water because the water at their schools is dangerous and contaminated.

Most people who have been to a school lately in rural, urban and suburban areas will likely tell you the state of America’s school buildings is poor, but a recent MPR story about a school district in Baltimore spending $675,000 in bottled water a year to ensure kids aren’t exposed to the water with high-levels of lead was truly eye-opening.

Across the country, 350 water systems that failed lead tests still provide drinking water to schools and childcare centers. According to USA Today, one water sample at a school in Maine had lead levels that were 41 times higher than the level considered safe.

Those schools might be just the tip of the iceberg. There are an estimated 90,000 schools and over 500,000 childcare facilities that aren’t required by the U.S. EPA to test the water. They are expected to test on their own because they aren’t covered by the Safe Water Drinking Act passed by Congress in 1974. And, while the law was updated in 1986 to require the use of lead-free pipe and other plumbing materials, clearly there is still a huge problem.

Tainted water is hardly the only struggle facing our schools. Years of neglect and a lack of modernization have resulted in our schools receiving a “D” grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) latest infrastructure report card. ASCE said, “National spending on school construction has diminished to approximately $10 billion in 2012, about half the level spent prior to the recession, while the condition of school facilities continues to be a significant concern for communities.”

It’s downright scary — and truly absurd — that the places we send our children every day might be the very source of health issues that could last a lifetime.

It’s downright scary — and truly absurd — that the places we send our children every day might be the very source of health issues that could last a lifetime. We need to undertake a national effort to repair our schools to make them safe from toxic chemicals in their water and air. Congress should take action immediately to fund efforts to clean up water in cities around the country.

This should start with the EPA. Updating the agency’s Lead and Copper Rule will make sure we can track where lead pipes are in our water systems, push utilities to develop programs to replace those pipes, and help to educate the public about the dangers of the pipes beneath their feet.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask that the drinking water in schools is safe. That’s about as low as the bar could possibly get. And yet kids from Detroit to Baltimore can’t drink the water in their schools.

So, let’s work together to fix it. Find out more about our efforts to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans at www.bluegreenalliance.org.

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