This is a serious concern for Black parents because we all know suburban schools are pampered and funded well before urban schools are. In addition, this is all a Republican scheme to break the public school systems so private schools can take their place.
There “is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” the World Health Organization has warned. The heavy metal, used widely in the past manufacture of water pipes, can cause serious health problems in adults including high blood pressure and kidney damage as it accumulates in the body at high levels of exposure.
But children are particularly vulnerable to its toxic effects, which can affect the development of the brain and nervous system. Even low levels can impair a child’s IQ, academic achievement and ability to pay attention. US studies have shown lead-exposed children are more likely to be aggressive, leading to bullying, truancy and even jail.
“Unfortunately, it’s a problem that was swept under the rug for many years, even though many experts were well aware there was excess of lead in their tap water,” said Erik Olson, a senior director of advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, about lead in schools in particular.
“Lead is a neurotoxin, it drops IQ scores, it’s linked to aberrant behavior and violence,” said Howard Kessler, a retired doctor based in Tallahassee, Florida, who is part of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“The concern is that while we are not taking much action, children are being damaged on a generational level. We are supposed to provide them with a safe environment, not poison them,” he said.
Elevated levels of lead have been found in schools across the US in the wake of the toxic water scandal that has roiled Flint, Michigan, since 2014. In Newark, officials had first found lead in school water fountains and taps nearly two years before Thomas was warned of its possible presence in her drinking water at home.
More than half of public schools in Atlanta were found to have high levels of lead, in some cases 15 times above the federal limit for water systems. Schools in Baltimore, Portland and Chicago were all found to have significant amounts of lead in drinking water.
The most startling problems arose in Detroit, where the school district shut off water in all 106 school buildings last year. A total of 57 Detroit schools tested positive for lead, copper or both. Students were told to switch to bottled water. The city is now looking to spend $2m on new filters and water fountains.
Communities outside major urban areas have not escaped exposure to lead. Two dozen schools and daycare centers in Maine were found to have high levels, while authorities in Vermont have vowed to test more of its schools after a report found 16 of them had lead contamination.
Often, when schools detect lead in fountains or taps, they are simply temporarily shut down, and children provided with bottled water, or fitted with filters—short-term solutions which experts say have serious flaws.