Education

NC got an ‘F’ for unsafe school drinking water. Activists want the lead out of schools.

Environmental activists have launched a new campaign to protect children from drinking lead-contaminated water in schools following a national report that gave North Carolina a failing grade for safe school drinking water.

North Carolina was among 22 states that got an “F” grade for not getting rid of lead from school drinking water, according to Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This week, Environment North Carolina released a back-to-school toolkit that gives the public information on how to get the lead out of schools.

“There is no safe level of lead for our citizens but especially for our children,” Krista Early, clean water advocate for Environment NC, said at a news conference at Moore Square. “North Carolina does not currently require testing of drinking water in our children’s schools.

“It makes no sense that the places where our children go to learn are not testing for water pollutants that can cause learning disabilities.”

Lead is toxic for everyone, but especially damaging to young children.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency encourages but does not require public schools to test water for lead.

Bipartisan legislation filed in March in the state House would require public schools and childcare facilities not in private residences to test the lead levels in their drinking water. But House Bill 386, which also provides $8 million in state funds to help pay for the cost of testing the water and repairing or replacing water systems, is stalled in committee.

Drew Ball, state director of Environment NC, said Monday he’s optimistic that state lawmakers will act on the legislation in 2020.

Environment NC plans to hold events the next two weeks in Guilford and Mecklenburg counties, where like in Wake unsafe levels of lead were found in schools and/or childcare centers.

Lead found in water in 2 NC school districts

Last year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that unacceptably high lead levels were found in dozens of school water fountains and sinks. Lead was also found in water in several Guilford County schools.

“It would be unreasonable to suggest that schools in other counties are free from this contamination,” Early said.

Sixteen percent of the 86 childcare centers in Wake, Durham, Orange and Guilford counties tested by RTI International found high levels of lead in the drinking water.

The toolkit encourages people to contact schools about taking steps such as testing their drinking water for lead. Other suggestions include asking schools to install filters on taps and replace pipes, plumbing, fountains and/or fixtures that contain lead.

The toolkit can be found at Environment NC’s website, https://environmentnorthcarolina.org/.

As part of Monday’s event, N.C. State associate professor Caren Cooper promoted the new EPA-funded Crowd The Tap program, (www.crowdthetap.org), that’s designed to promote access to safe drinking water. Organizers want to create a comprehensive national inventory of pipe materials that deliver drinking water to homes by getting people to submit their information to the project.

“Lead has irreversible health consequences for children and for adults,” Cooper said. “Lead poisoning is entirely preventable by removing the sources that can cause lead exposure.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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