The push to remove lead from Metro Atlanta school water continues
ATLANTA (WUPA) -- The Flint Water Crisis prompted Metro Atlanta school districts to test their water for lead, and recent tests have some parents and advocates concerned.
Atlanta Public Schools provided Atlanta Now News with test results from 2021, which reveal 85 out of the 108 schools or facilities tested had at least one water source that tested higher than government standards allow.
"It's scary, and to know that parents are not in the know, we did not know that," said Kimberly Dukes, a mother of 10 children, several of whom attend schools that were on the list. "We would like see the district tell us about it or meet with us one on one and not talk over our heads," she said, accusing the district of having a lack of transparency.
Her son, Sincere Dukes, an eighth grader, shared his concerns as well.
"It's not safe for nobody, for all the damage it can do to people," he said.
In February, Environment America gave Georgia an "F" for having no state law in place that requires schools to address lead in drinking water.
"This is not something that we need to be sticking our head in the sand and ignoring. We should be taking action, testing our schools and fixing problems," said Jennette Gayer, the director of Environment Georgia. "We did an analysis last fall, and at that point, we found that roughly 45% of the taps tested had unsafe levels of lead."
The analysis was based on the one parts-per-billion limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of the 2,144 taps tested, 964 showed elevated levels of lead.
APS insists it has corrected the copper and lead issues found in its schools between 2016 and 2017, and the district released the information below, in response to our questions:
"All of the water sources were cleared and meet the federal standard of being below the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead and 1300 parts per billion (ppb) for copper in public water systems. The district will continue to establish protocols and procedures for addressing the buildup of lead and copper in the water systems of its facilities. This includes:
- Closely following EPA-recommended guidelines for flushing all water sources in all school facilities that have been unoccupied by students and staff for longer than seven days.
- Development of a regular testing schedule, whereby water sources in district facilities are tested on an ongoing basis.
- Continuing to work with the City of Atlanta on any water testing initiatives.
We found 23 schools or district facilities out of 108 where at least one water source tested higher than the EPA action level.
If a potable water source tested positive after a second flushing, then the source and piping were replaced. All of the sources were retested and subsequently cleared for use.
During each extended school break, APS flushes each potable water source for 30 minutes.
APS has been proactive in testing all potable water sources and will continue to do so going forward outsourcing the testing to our environmental consulting vendors."
The district has committed to testing the water in its schools and facilities every five years.
"Why do we have to wait every five years? Our kids go to school every year, all year long," said Mellissa Blalock, another parent.
Fulton County Schools released this statement:
"In 2016 and 2017, Fulton County Schools tested all drinking water sources for lead. This is different from some other districts who have only done random testing. We tested every school site and every drinking source to ensure we were below the 15 ppm required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lead-in-water testing for FCS was performed, in accordance with the EPA technical guidance document 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools. In areas where we found lead in higher levels, the district remediated any plumbing fixtures found to be in non-compliance.
FCS has also instituted a testing requirement for every new or renovation construction project that involves drinking water. The required testing will ensure the district maintains results in alignment with the EPA guidance on lead in drinking water.
FCS continues to monitor our drinking water for lead and will work to keep our kids safe."
When asked about the situation in the Gwinnett County schools, that system released a statement:
"Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) receives drinking water from the Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources, which sets water quality goals higher than those required by state and federal regulations and consistently complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Therefore, the water quality in GCPS facilities is comparable to water generally available to the public in any other county location. The well-being of our students and staff is a top priority; this includes access to safe drinking water. GCPS has a long history of successful inspections and continues to comply with state and federal laws."
Upon inquiry, Clayton County Schools directed Now News to the system's website.
"Over the past few years the district has conducted a series of water tests, and those results are posted on our district website. These results also include the measures taken to address any issues that surfaced," the school system's statement said.
Organizations have urged school systems to sign up for free water testing through the Clean Water for Georgia Kids program, an EPA-funded partnership between the non-profit research institute RTI International and the Georgia Department of Education.
Officials from the DeKalb County Schools released a statement regarding its water efforts.
The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our students, staff, and community. Our 138 schools and centers are located throughout DeKalb County, and we rely on city and county municipalities for our water supply. As consumers, the District has every confidence in their ability to provide clean drinking water because of their constant testing and monitoring of water quality to ensure it meets and exceeds all federal and state standards.
As an additional safety measure, DCSD has implemented enhanced measures to safeguard our water supply, including the installation of Water Bottle Filling stations with advanced filtration systems at all school facilities.
For historical reference, all water sources at DCSD school sites were tested for lead in 2016-17. Any discrepancies- however minor- were addressed. Subsequent retesting confirmed that all DCSD sites met stringent EPA standards.
"This is actually an initiative that the governor took on, that he saw to be important," said GDEO Assistant Director Sarah Morris.
Clean Water for Georgia Kids Program Director Jennifer Hoponick-Redmon said their goal is to eliminate lead from the drinking and cooking water in Georgia's schools and childcare centers.
"There's no safe level of lead exposure, and we know that lead causes reduced IQ, attention and behavioral difficulties and makes educational attainment more challenging and that translates into decreased lifetime earnings," she said.
Georgia has 181 school districts consisting of over 2,200 schools, and it has 3,100 childcare centers.
Only two facilities in Metro Atlanta have used the free testing offered through the program.
Clean Water for Georgia Kids is urging all schools, including those that utilize their own testing, to sign up for their program, and they say parents and students to get involved by collecting water samples at schools, if their schools don't participate.
For more information, click here: https://www.cleanwaterforuskids.org/georgia
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