By ONME Newswire
FRESNO, CA -- As Fresno schools consider best practices for reopening in the fall, they must address the fact that too many have dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. Lead is contaminating drinking water in more than 1,300 schools throughout the state, including 64 schools in Fresno County, according to an updated interactive map released by CALPIRG Education Fund. The problem is widespread, with 50 percent of reporting school districts in Fresno County finding contaminated drinking water outlets. Statewide, 53 percent of all reporting districts found lead in water.
Several Fresno schools reported incredibly high levels of lead. McLane High School in Fresno Unified reported 140 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in one drinking water outlet. Granite Ridge Intermediate in Clovis Unified found 89 ppb of lead in drinking water. Schools report that these outlets have since been remediated. Yet since most schools have only tested a handful of outlets so far, there are likely more lead-contaminated outlets currently in use.
Based on the most recently reported data, nearly 15 percent of schools in Fresno County and nearly 18 percent of all California schools required to test have still not reported results. It is unclear if they have completed the required testing.
“There is no safe level of lead, and it is unacceptable to knowingly expose children to this toxin,” said CALPIRG Associate Claudia Deeg. “Now that the results are in, we need to do everything we can to get the lead out of school drinking water.”
These totals come one year after the July 1, 2019, deadline for schools to test their drinking water for lead under a 2017 California law authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.
"We required water districts to test school drinking water for lead because it’s unacceptable that children and teachers could be poisoned by drinking water from their school fountains,” Asm. Gonzalez said. “Now that the results are in, we know where we need to take action to make sure our schools have safe, lead-free drinking water."
Given the gravity of these results, Fresno school districts must take action.
"Fresno Unified cares deeply about the health and safety of our students, and we cannot allow lead, a dangerous toxin, to remain in our drinking water," said Fresno Unified Trustee Veva Islas. "Now that voters have approved funding for lead remediation through the Measure M school bond, FUSD needs to take further action to get the lead out."
“This map shows two things. First, that lead in school drinking water is not just a rural issue that affects small communities but a significant problem across the state including here in Fresno, the 5th largest city of California. And second, that students of color are disproportionately affected by lack of access to clean drinking water. This is a public health crisis and a civil rights issue," said Grecia Elenes, Senior Policy Advocate at the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability. "Communities fought for over a decade for the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to provide clean drinking water in homes. Now we urge Fresno Unified and school districts across the Central Valley to do more to get the lead out and ensure children have safe, clean drinking water in school.”
Some school districts in California have gone beyond state requirements already.
"At San Diego Unified, when we found there was a problem with lead leaching from fountains, we got to work,” said Cindy Marten, Superintendent of SDUSD. “We tested more than 2,500 taps, addressed the highest risk water fountains first, and then worked on a plan to get rid of all the old fountains and replace them with new filtered hydration stations district wide. That plan was just adopted by the Board of Education in February, and we are proud that San Diego Unified students and teachers will have some of the cleanest drinking water in the country."
Clay Elementary in San Diego Unified implemented the model plan and now has lead-free water school-wide.
One factor limiting many schools from executing plans is a lack of funds. Fresno and San Diego voters recently approved school infrastructure bonds necessary to pay for improvements, including lead remediation. But for the school districts around the state without this revenue source, options are limited. Last March, California voters rejected a school bond that would have included funding to get lead out of schools.
Yet Americans consistently indicate that getting lead out of drinking water should be a priority. For example, a poll released last week by EDF Action found that replacing lead pipes is one of the top priorities of swing state voters. Later today, Congress will consider funding complete lead service line removal in disadvantaged communities in the next infrastructure stimulus bill.
California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.