Trace amounts of lead have been found in the drinking water at 293 schools across 3 school districts in South Texas. The majority of affected schools were in the Houston ISD, followed by Alief ISD and Humble ISD. In total, all 49 of Alief schools tested positive for lead in the drinking water, while half of Humble’s 45 schools tested positive as well.
Last year, 16 of Houston ISD’s 167 schools had lead in the water that met or exceeded the EPA’s recommended action limit. After repairs, 6 of the schools continued to have traces of lead in the water that exceeded safe levels. Experts believe the central problem is the old and degrading plumbing system in the school buildings.
Some schools in the Houston area still have serious levels of lead in the water. The High School for Performing & Visual Arts had a lead level of 95.6 parts per billion. Edison Middle School was the worst at 466 ppb, which is twenty times the EPA limit of 20 ppb.
No Federal or State Enforcement
The organization that discovered the traces of lead and conducted the tests, Environment Texas, says that school districts are largely on their own. State law doesn’t do much to prevent the contamination of drinking water in schools, and neither state nor federal law requires action if elevated lead levels are found in the water. If ingested, large amounts of lead can cause brain disorders, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility. Small amounts cause far fewer problems—but children are affected by lead far more than adults.
In some states, parents have turned to suing the school districts when their children suffered lead poisoning. In Pennsylvania, one mother sued the local school district for failing to notify parents that there was lead in the drinking water—resulting in her daughter’s injuries.
About Environment Texas
All of the data from this story comes from a series of hundreds of tests conducted last March by Environment Texas. The group is a citizen-led advocacy group based in Austin. Their goal is to give school districts and parents the information they need to keep their drinking water clean and safe. The organization is currently working with organizations to document and distribute information about the toxic hazards brought about by Hurricane Harvey.