An internationally-recognized environmental health expert says the Boise School District is taking the right first steps to purge lead from school water sources – but that more needs to be done to protect the health of students and staff.
“We should focus on testing the fountains and the taps and mitigating them – getting rid of any fountains and taps that have excessive amounts of lead,” says Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a professor at Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, British Columbia.
District officials are already replacing these taps and water fountains, though there’s no clear timetable or price tag. They’re also trucking in bottled water and taking other steps to reduce lead exposure at 27 schools built before Congress outlawed the use of the metal in construction projects in 1986.
But district officials are aiming for a federal drinking water benchmark of 15 parts of lead per billion.
That’s not good enough, according to Lanphear, who wrote a study for the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016 that found no safe level of exposure – for children or adults – when it comes to lead.
“They shouldn’t stop addressing the problems until they can bring down the levels below five parts per billion, again, in the next five to 10 years.”
And after that, Lanphear says the district should get lead levels below one part per billion – 15 times lower than what the EPA recommends.
Following Lanphear’s guidelines, nearly half of the water supplies in these 26 active schools were at or above five parts per billion. More than three quarters of them were at or above one part per billion.
His research has found ongoing exposure to lead over several months under current EPA drinking water standards can still lead to lower IQs, behavioral problems and other health issues.
In an interview last month, a Boise School District spokesman said there were no plans to reduce lead levels below federal guidelines.
Here's a map of each currently-occupied school that was tested. Click on each marker to find how many water sources tested above EPA guidelines for lead in drinking water.
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