Pennsylvania’s Schools Have A Lead Problem, But There’s a Solution

Whether you have kids there, work there, or were recently there yourself: daycares and schools are where we spend a substantial amount of our lives — 1,000 hours for the average child per year to be exact. These places should be safe to spend time in — and free from the risk of lead contaminating the drinking water. In partnership with Women for a Healthy Environment and The Heinz Endowments, GBA launched the 1,000 Hours a Year Project, which provides grants to test and remediate any hidden hazards in schools. As parents, teachers, and community members, your voices are the most readily heard, so please encourage your school to apply! 

Lead pipes are not new to Pittsburgh, so why is this an especially pertinent issue now?  Well, a number of drinking water authorities (including PWSA) have made some treatment and/or water source choices that have caused the protective coating lining lead pipes to be compromised.  This coating takes years to develop, so even though authorities have reverted back to best practices, lead can still leach out of the services lines. In Pittsburgh, lead levels in drinking water have risen, with many people are choosing to replace their own personal line.  When my own house’s water tested above PWSA’s action limit of 15 parts per billion, I had to follow that trend.

For a toxic chemical like lead, it might seem peculiar that we are allowed 15 ppb before it is unsafe. In fact, the EPA has set “the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is persistent, and it can bioaccumulate in the body over time.” The EPA developed the high action limits for lead standards  in the early 1990s, when it was thought that minimizing exposure would be enough. They have not yet been updated to account for the most up-to-date research.   

The good news is, the Pennsylvania State Legislature has proposed legislation to require lead testing in schools, requiring remediation for any fixtures over 5 ppb.  There are 50 co-sponsors, but the bill has a ways to go before it becomes law. In the time being, encourage your school to apply for the 1,000 Hours a Year grant for testing & remediation. The grant runs out in 2018, so make sure your school accesses the funding ASAP!

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