An Associated Press investigation found that over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of public and private schools in all 50 states contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins. As water safety violations have multipllied, the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government.
“If a landlord doesn’t tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail,” remarked Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality. “But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?”
Approximately one of every five schools with its own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), analyzed by the AP.
The contaminants are especially dangerous to children, who drink more water per pound than adults and are more vulnerable to the effects of many hazardous substances. “There’s a different risk for kids,” said Cynthia Dougherty, head of the EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water.
When the Associated Press analyzed a database showing federal drinking water violations from 1998 to 2008 in schools with their own water supplies, the organization discovered:
- Water in about 100 school districts and 2,250 schools breached federal safety standards.
- Those schools and districts racked up more than 5,550 separate violations. In 2008, the EPA recorded 577 violations, up from 59 in 1998 – an increase that officials attribute mainly to tougher rules.
- California, which has the most schools of any state, also recorded the most violations with 612, followed by Ohio (451), Maine (417), Connecticut (318) and Indiana (289).
- Nearly half the violators in California were repeat offenders. One elementary school in Tulare County, in the farm country of the Central Valley, broke safe-water laws 20 times.
- The most frequently cited contaminant was coliform bacteria, followed by lead and copper, arsenic and nitrates.
Unfortunately, the EPA does not have the authority to require testing for all schools and can only provide guidance on environmental practices. Schools with wells are required to test their water and report any problems to the state, which is supposed to send all violations to the federal government
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