One would THINK that we could send our children to school and feel confident knowing that the water dispensed from drinking fountains and faucets would not contain coliform bacteria, lead, copper, pesticides, etc. As sad as this will sound, we apparently cannot think like that.

In an article written by Associated Press Writer Garance Burke for publication last Friday (Sept. 25, 2009)…

CUTLER, Calif. – Over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of schools across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins.

An Associated Press investigation found that contaminants have surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states — in small towns and inner cities alike.

But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government, even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied.

“It’s an outrage,” said Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality. “If a landlord doesn’t tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?” ( source )

After reading that last bit you most likely would like to know what schools have the greatest problems, what sorts of problems they experience, and how often they experience them.

According to the article by the Associated Press,

The contamination is most apparent at schools with wells, which represent 8 to 11 percent of the nation’s schools. Roughly 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 analyzed by the AP.

In California’s farm belt, wells at some schools are so tainted with pesticides that students have taken to stuffing their backpacks with bottled water for fear of getting sick from the drinking fountain.

The AP analyzed a database showing federal drinking water violations from 1998 to 2008 in schools with their own water supplies. The findings:

  • 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.

( source )

Simple test kits exist for arsenic, coliform bacteria, lead, copper and nitrates but in most cases schools do not have to test for and report the quality of their water since it comes from municipal water water source which does have to issue water quality reports to the government on a regular basis.

So where do the contaminants come from? In many cases the contaminants may come from old or faulty plumbing within the schools’ own walls. Older copper piping with fused together with lead solder can very easily contaminate water supplies to an entire school with the highest readings typically found in the mornings and after weekends or vacations.

What can a concerned parent do?

  • Ask your child’s school administrators questions: Do they test the water quality? How often do they test the water quality? What do they test the water for?
  • If the people you initially speak with cannot answer you, then ask them who can provide you with the answers you seek and move up the food chain until you get them.

  • Ask the school to perform simple testing for heavy metals and coliform bacteria on a regular basis. Schools using well water should also consider testing for pesticides, nitrates and nitrites. If they will not do the testing, ask then if they will allow YOU to perform the testing before or after normal school hours as long as you have a member of school staff as an escort.

We cannot protect our children from EVERY hazard out there but we CAN do our best to keep them from drinking contaminated water at school.

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