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LOS ANGELES -- The second largest school district in the country recently took a big step to get the lead out of their drinking water. On April 23rd, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) voted to spend $15 million to retest drinking water outlets, and either fix or replace water fountains where tests come back positive for at least 5 parts per billion (ppb) of lead.
LAUSD serves 694,000 students, and has more than 40,000 drinking water fountains to maintain at its 1,322 school sites.
“Every parent wants the assurance that the water at school is safe for their children to drink,” said Emily Rusch, executive director of CALPIRG and CALPIRG Education Fund. “Los Angeles Unified’s latest investment to address lead in drinking water is undeniably a step forward for children’s health.”
Lead is highly toxic, especially to children. Even small exposures to lead can do permanent damage to children's cognitive development. State and federal laws currently fail to protect public health from exposure to lead in drinking water.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the allowable level of lead in water should be no more than 1 part per billion. And yet:
It was only nine years ago that California significantly tightened its “lead-free” standard for pipes and plumbing fixtures. Previously, builders were allowed to install pipes and plumbing fixtures that contained some lead in them.
Of the 55 percent of schools that have reported testing results to the California State Water Control Board, one third of school districts had a school with lead levels at more than 5 ppb. Test results are generally not reported down to 1 ppb.
As of January 2019, 45 percent of school districts had not reported testing their drinking water for lead, despite a 2017 state law that requires most school districts to complete some testing by July 2019.
California law allows schools to do nothing if they get back test results that are between 1 and 15 ppb, even though we know that no level of lead is safe for kids.
CALPIRG Education Fund’s recent report, Get the Lead Out, gave California a C+ grade for its efforts to ensure all school drinking water is lead-free. Back in February, CALPIRG organizer Ryann Lynn testified at the LAUSD meeting, urging the board to take further action to address lead in drinking water.
“We trust Los Angeles Unified will implement this program quickly and well, and publicly report back on their progress,” said Rusch. “All of the drinking water at Los Angeles schools must be safe for our kids to drink.”
CALPIRG is also encouraging the legislature to support policies and funding sources to help schools provide safe water for kids. LAUSD staff noted that depending on what the testing uncovers, $15 million may not be enough to get all of the faucets down to compliance with a 5ppb standard for lead, let alone a 1ppb standard. In particular, schools could benefit from a sustainable safe water fund to install and change out filters for their drinking water fountains and filling stations. Future local and statewide school bonds could also help districts make needed upgrades to pipes and plumbing fixtures.
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