Last week, we learned that not only had the Portland Public School System in Portland, Ore. known for weeks that two of its schools were showing elevated levels of lead in its water—it also withheld those results from parents, while doing nothing to keep those children from drinking the water during that time.
Now, Willamette Week is reporting that officials at the school system failed to disclose results of earlier testing of lead in its schools. According to documents the publication obtained, during 2010-2012, the school system tested 90 buildings across the district, and found elevated levels in over half of those buildings. Shockingly, when interviewed, officials disavowed knowledge of the testing. “As extraordinary as these findings are, WW [Willamette Week] could not find anyone at PPS [Portland Public Schools] who says they knew of the testing, or the results, prior to learning of them from WW last Friday. Nor is it clear what was done in response to the tests,” wrote Rachel Monahan, who broke the story.
— Willamette Week (@wweek) June 1, 2016
Water fountains were only turned off once these leaked documents were emailed to school officials, according to the report.
Understandably, parents are outraged. Lead is a potent neurotoxin and has no place in our drinking water. And the parents of students in Portland deserve answers—and some have already called for the resignation of Superintendent Carole Smith.
But since the crisis in Flint, Mich. made headlines, more and more lead-related issues have been reported, and Portland isn’t alone by any stretch when it comes to lead in school water: USA Today reported this spring that lead taints drinking water in hundreds of schools and daycares across the country. News reports of lead in schools in places like Chicago, Boston, Baltimore and Newark, among others, make headlines every week.
What’s more, many schools that have found the lead have tested for it voluntarily—the Environmental Protection Agency requires testing only of schools that maintain their own water supply under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Approximately 90,000 public schools and half a million daycare centers are exempt from this testing, since they receive their water from municipal supplies. Municipal water utilities test for lead primarily at the taps of homes — not schools.
It’s time we took our aging water infrastructure seriously, and funded it so that we can continue to have safe drinking water in our homes—and schools.
It’s time to start revitalizing our aging public water systems to help these communities struggling with aging infrastructure, including very old and corrosive pipes that can leach lead and other heavy metals into our water. Unfortunately, the reverse is happening: since 1977, the height of federal funding for our water infrastructure, per capita levels of funding have dropped by 82 percent. That’s why Food & Water Watch has worked with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to support the WATER Act, which would reverse that trend, providing up to $35 billion in dedicated federal funding each year to keep our aging water and sewer systems working. It also creates the School Drinking Water Improvement Grant program to provide funding to public primary and secondary schools that wish to test, repair, replace, or install the infrastructure necessary for drinking water fountains or bottle filling stations.
Take action to protect our clean drinking water—tell your member of Congress to support the WATER Act.
It’s time we took our aging water infrastructure seriously, and funded it so that we can continue to have safe drinking water in our homes—and schools. Take action to protect our clean drinking water: tell your member of Congress to support the WATER Act.