65% of Texas schools which have tested for lead have found unsafe levels

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Environment Texas gives Texas an F for state response

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – 65 percent of Texas schools which have tested for lead in drinking water have measured unsafe levels, according to Environment Texas. An analysis by Environment Texas gave Texas a grade of F for failing to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but Texas is failing to protect our kids from lead in drinking water,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Kids’ developing brains are especially susceptible to highly toxic lead so it’s time to get the lead out.”

As more Texas schools test their water, they are finding lead.  Of 594 schools in Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth which have been tested, 386 have measured levels of lead greater than 1 part per billion (ppb). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “state and local governments should take steps to ensure that water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of 1 ppb.” Yet most Texas schools haven’t tested at all and a new report by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg. 

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Trish O’Day, MSN, RN, CNS-Community Health, Toxic-Free Child Program Manager for Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.   In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. 

Unfortunately, current state law does far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. Texas requires no testing or remediation, giving Texas a grade of F in Environment Texas’ review of 16 states. Federal law also does not require testing or remediation, unless schools have their own water supply.

“We were disappointed to find that Texas’s efforts are at the back of the class the class for protecting children from lead at school.  Our kids deserve better,” said Metzger.

Some Texas school districts have begun testing despite lack of state or federal requirements. 386 out of 594 schools which have been tested identified lead levels over 1 ppb.

  • Fort Worth ISD identified 124 of 128 schools with high lead levels and is removing hundreds of water fountains
  • Houston ISD identified 147 of 167 schools, including Golfcrest Elementary which had lead levels of 1160 ppb. HISD has only tested elementary schools so far, but intends to test all schools. 
  • Dallas ISD identified 113 of 234 schools with elevated lead levels, but has only announced remediation plans at 12 schools with very high levels.
  • Austin ISD has only tested about half of their schools and identified high lead levels at 2 of 66 schools tested (Zavala and Barrington). Unlike the other school districts, AISD has not posted the results online and only makes it available via open records requests.

Environment Texas noted that many schools are incorrectly declaring school drinking water “safe” if lead levels are below 15 ppb – fifteen times the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The EPA’s “action level” only applies to utilities when more than 10 percent of test samples exceed this 15 ppb. It does not cover 90% of schools and is not intended as a standard for an individual source of contaminated water, such as been found at many drinking water fountains.

Environment Texas called on the Legislature to require schools to remove lead service lines, require filters certified to remove lead at every tap used for drinking and cooking, and allow no more than 1 ppb of lead in water at school.

“Texans of all faiths affirm that protecting the health and wellbeing of our children is one of our most sacred responsibilities,” said Bee Moorhead, Executive Director of the interfaith group Texas Impact.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

The groups pointed to growing momentum around the state and country to get the lead out of schools. Rep. Nicole Collier filed HB 2395 on Friday to require lead testing in schools. Parents in other states are demanding action too. Environment Texas’s counterparts are working with doctors and parents and community leaders in seven other states to advance policies that Get the Lead Out of schools and daycares.

Environment Texas is a statewide advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces. www.EnvironmentTexas.org