Environmental group gives Texas an ‘F’ for protecting students from lead

FILE - Water Fountain (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Water Fountain (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An analysis released by a state environmental group shows 65 percent of Texas schools that tested for lead in drinking water discovered unsafe levels.

Environment Texas gave the state an ‘F’ and said it is 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,” 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.”

According to the report, 386 schools out of 594 tested in Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth 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 water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of 1 ppb.” According to Environment Texas, most Texas schools are not testing the water at all.

A KXAN investigation in March of 2016 revealed school districts are not required to test the water coming out of faucets and drinking fountains, and Austin ISD did not do it.

After the story aired, KXAN learned AISD tested 60 out of 130 campuses and received good news from the results. Only one test from a water fountain at Zavala Elementary School tested above the acceptable range for lead. As a precaution, the district removed that fountain and did more testing around the school, all of which came back showing lead levels in the acceptable range.

AISD officials believe the water at Zavala is safe.

The new Environment Texas report highlighted a second AISD campus, Barrington Elementary School, as having high lead levels of 4.8 ppb. It falls in AISD’s ‘acceptable’ range, but does not meet standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“That’s scares me,” said Jose Ordonez, who has a first grade daughter at Barrington. “I hope they monitor better and come up with a solution because these are our kids. I mean, they’re little. They can get sick from anything.”

KXAN contacted AISD late Monday afternoon for a response to the report, and was told the facilities director would be able to answer questions Tuesday.

Other Texas school districts have begun testing despite lack of state or federal requirements:

  • 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.

Environment Texas points out unlike the other school districts, AISD has not posted their lead testing results online and only makes them available via open records requests.

Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Forth Worth, filed HB 2395 on Friday to require annual lead testing in schools.

“Years and years ago they got rid of all the lead paint in our school system because there are harmful effects if there’s high levels of lead,” said Rep. Collier. “So we need to do the same thing with our drinking water.”

Most parents KXAN talked to thought it was already a requirement. “I don’t see why it’s not being done right now,” said Ordonez.

Parents in other states are also demanding action. 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 day cares.

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