February 20, 2017
Nonprofit wants to 'Get the Lead Out' of schools' water
By Ryan Dailey
The nonprofit Environment Florida Research & Policy Center has published a report including new recommendations for removing lead from schools' drinking water and handed Florida an "F" grade for its policies when it comes to monitoring lead levels.
Jennifer Rubiello, Environment Florida's director, says Florida earned its poor grade by not having ordinances and laws on the books that require water testing in schools.
"In terms of our current state law, we don’t really have any. If you look at states like New Jersey and New York, they require at least some testing," she said.
Lead in water has been found to be responsible for lower IQ, hyperactivity, hearing and learning problems, anemia and slowed growth in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In adults, it can cause cardiovascular, kidney and reproductive problems.
Rubiello said, with the report, released last week, her organization has "proposed policy solutions and are working to educate the public" and will "be looking to support policies at the city, county and potentially state level," that are more stringent than what is currently in place.
In its introduction, the report recommends schools "proactively removing lead-bearing parts from schools’ drinking water systems — from service lines to faucets and fixtures — and installing filters certified to remove lead at every tap used for drinking or cooking."
The report cites tests and news articles over the past two years that show lead in schools and other public drinking water, including the Oct. 25 article in the Tallahassee Democrat entitled "Lead found in drinking water in area schools." The article came after tests by two university professors showed significant levels of lead in drinking water at some elementary schools in Leon and Wakulla counties.
The tests, performed last August, showed lead levels ranging from 1 part per billion to 25 parts per billion. At the time, LCS officials cited the EPA's "action level" of 15 ppb as the standard followed by the district, but Environment Florida cited the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation which warns against having lead concentrations of 1 ppb present in school drinking fountains.
"At a minimum, outlets with water exceeding this concentration (1 ppb) should immediately be removed from service until permanent remediation — not mere flushing — ensures safe drinking water on an ongoing basis" the report reads.
Dr. Ron Saff, who spearheaded the effort, said he has been "encouraged" by LCS' response to its own lead findings and the subsequent launch of its water quality Assurance program.
"I’m very proud of the local school system. They seem to be totally on board with getting the lead out of public schools water. They started a flushing program, they are monitoring lead levels, and they seem to be fully committed and engaged." Saff said.
"I think Florida's grade of 'F' is well-deserved because nobody in Florida outside of LCS seems to be taking any action."
Last week, Saff said he held a meeting with Mayor Andrew Gillum that included Don Axelrad, Florida A&M University professor of environmental health, petitioning the mayor's office to encourage daycare centers and other childcare facilities to implement lead testing. Saff said, though the mayor and his staff were interested, a follow-up meeting to discuss the issue has been canceled.
Ronnie Youngblood, LCS divisional director, said the district has continued to move forward in addressing and monitoring its lead levels.
"We have on board a plumbing engineer to work with us as we move into our comprehensive testing program and procedures," Youngblood said. He added LCS has an agreement with Tampa-based Arcadia Inc., who he called a "top consultant" in water assurance programs to formulate comprehensive, ongoing testing and procedures.