A Lead on Lead

As it stands, Pennsylvania is devoid of any policy insofar as the prevention or removal of lead contamination of water for early learning centers and schools. While there is policy in place for reducing risk for lead contamination from lead paints there is nothing outside of this (pa laws). Laws vary from state by state as for lead policies, however, very few oversee the control or minimization of lead in water for schools and early learning centers. A minority of schools and child care facilities are protected on the federal level through the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 8000 schools and early learning centers are protected by the SWDA but this is easily dwarfed by the approximately 98,000 public schools and 500,000 child care facilities which are unregulated (Environmental Protection Agency). None of these unregulated facilities are required to conduct water testing.

However, even among facilities that test be it voluntarily or by requirement, the current action level of 15 ppb is incredibly problematic; especially when medical experts agree that no amount of lead is safe. Despite unanimity among health experts that there is no safe lead level for water, current state and federal policy would lead one to believe that there is. Once more, younger individuals, such as children who are still undergoing physical development are more prone to absorbing lead and suffering because of it. This is because younger individuals have yet to develop a sufficient blood brain barrier to keep lead from immediately and directly being absorbed into the brain. Without a developed blood brain barrier, neurons and other delicate parts of the brain are at direct threat to whatever may be ingested and placed within the bloodstream.

Lead’s most stable oxidation state is 2+ which makes it dangerously like Calcium which maintains a typical oxidation state of 2+ as well. As calcium is important for neurological function, skeletal integrity, as well as muscle function, when Lead is absorbed instead of Calcium for such important biological processes, various problems arise. Those who are deficient and/or undergoing growth/developmental periods in life are most susceptible to harms. In particular, pregnant individuals and young children and adolescents are most in harm’s way. For example, it is relatively common knowledge that during fetal development calcium necessary for bone growth is supplemented/”leached” from the parent gestating the child. But what do you think happens when there is a Calcium deficiency and Lead to spare? The body ends up intaking Lead and depositing it into bone tissues causing the bones to be more brittle/fragile, and that’s not the only place the Lead ends up as aforementioned. This issue is further magnified when you consider issues of food insecurity caused by poverty which intersects with a variety of other systemic and institutional problems.

Anyhow, Pennsylvania, among several other states and within federal law does not mandate early learning centers and schools proactively and consistently ascertain that water is lead free and/or safe, however. At the federal level, there are no real guidelines that are followed by many of such facilities only recommendations, truly.

The EPA recommends that action be taken if lead levels reach 15 ppb or higher, however, as aforementioned there is no safe level of lead. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends a target level for lead of 1 part per billion. Utilizing data, and/or filling in the gaps for any lack thereof, problematic areas ought to be ascertained and tested for lead concerns. In the meantime, filtration systems ought to be installed for drinking water and water utilized for cooking or any thing that would pertain to such water being ingested or taken in for any use as a stopgap measure. This is the least that learning centers ought to do if not the means for overhaul all parts/pipes responsible for lead contamination is not immediately possible. For such facilities, a long term solution to overhaul lead contaminating parts ought to be devised, ideally the state or federal government may assist in States ought to institute a means of funding beyond what already exists and/or if it does not exist already through voluntary programs to at least provide filters/filtration for safe water consumption then lay out a plan to replace parts responsible for lead contamination within the water with the hopes that the filtration costs can be phased out through a longer-term solution such as what was mentioned. Moreover, water testing ought to be conducted consistently and regularly so that learning centers may be proactive and know at any given time what the water quality people at any given facility are due the right to know what they are consuming and to be free from hazards.

Most sources of lead lie with private property and houses rather than publicly owned pipes which creates a unique set of problems. Urban cities tend to be hubs of high density housing as well as high density pockets of impoverished people which are disproportionately affected by lead contamination. Once more, these communities are also unlikely to be able to afford removal of lead contaminating parts on property they reside in or own, and its unlikely landlords will take corrective action, either. Governments must act as an intermediary to help remove lead contaminating parts by either paying for them altogether or helping to subsidize for those who are voluntarily undergoing the process for their living spaces. It would be grossly unjust to force a financial burden on impoverished people to replace lead pipes and outfittings where they live. This is something that all levels of government ought to coordinate with people to resolve, lest they force people out of where they live because they cannot afford such costs that were not their fault.

Some Resources:

Environmental Law Institute “Reducing Environmental Exposures in Child Care Facilities A Review of State Policy” : https://www.cehn.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/reducing-environmental-exposures-child-care_2.pdf

“Get the Lead Out: Ensuring Safe Drinking Water for Our Children at School” : https://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/AME%20GetTheLeadOut%20Feb17%201.3.pdf

One Comment Add yours

  1. callie.oliver says:

    Important resources that you shared here. Thank you! Lead contamination is such a complicated issue that will take decades to really repair, and that’s if we get that far. There’s an estimate that if Pittsburgh were to replace all of our old piping structure, it would take decades, just for Pittsburgh.

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