As children head back to school, environmental advocates are equipping parents with resources to address the issue of lead contamination in school water fountains.
“Since Flint, the issue of lead in drinking water has come to national attention,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director of the Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center. “We haven’t yet seen a tragedy on that same scale here in Massachusetts, but we know this is a problem that is wide spread.”
Lead has been confirmed in about half of 67,000 samples of school drinking water across the state, according to a report from Environment Massachusetts and Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG).
In most of those confirmed cases, the sample showed that the concentration was above 1 part per billion — the threshold recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to Deirdre Cummings of the MassPIRG Education Fund.
The academy “basically said that there is no safe level,” of lead, Cummings added, but that level is meant to indicate that “anything above 1 part per billion is dangerous and we need to eliminate it.”
The two organizations worked together to create a Get the Lead Out “Back to School” toolkit to let parents know what they can do to address the issue.
The toolkit is meant to energize parents to take action within their own communities, hopefully spurring change across the state.
“Now that data is out there, it’s up to all of us to take action and fix it,” Hellerstein said. “We’re working on the state level, but there’s no reason why parents in the local community should wait.”
Along with educating parents about the issue of lead contamination and what health impacts the neurotoxin can have, especially on children, the toolkit offers templates for letters to officials, petitions and social media posts parents can use to build support.
Advocates hope the attention will lead to tangible changes, such as replacing water service lines that are still made of lead and installing filters in water fountains where lead has been detected.
Though there’s no large-scale tragedy yet, any lead in drinking water should be a thing of the past, Cummings said.
“Particularly now at a time when we have driverless cars, 3D printers, [etc.],” she said, “we really ought not to tolerate a system that delivers lead laden water to anyone, let alone our children.”