Advocates step up focus on eliminating lead exposure in children

Over the past five years, DC’s Department of General Services (DGS) has recorded 65 instances where drinking water in district schools had lead readings over 5 ppb.

By Sam PK Collins | black word | Sacramento Observer

Earlier this year, the district branch of the NAACP launched a campaign urging DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the DC Council to reduce children’s exposure to lead, whether at home or in the workplace. ‘school.

Since the turn of the century, based on the DC Water and Sewer Authority’s initial efforts to replace lead pipes in the district, lead exposure has been a burning problem, especially among school-aged children and pregnant women. Both populations, when exposed to lead, remain at high risk of developing health problems.

In an appeal to district leaders, NAACP Washington, D.C. branch president Akosua Ali, along with nearly two dozen advocates, cited DC Water’s capital improvement plan that left 80% of replacement efforts lead into the hands of district residents who would be required to register for a government program.

The status quo, Ali said, places the administrative burden on low-income and less informed residents.

Ali has since championed legislation introduced by DC Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and six of his council colleagues. If passed, the Green New Deal for a Lead-Free DC Amendment Act will expedite the removal of hazardous lead utility lines on private and public lands while expanding the district’s lead remediation workforce through the DC Infrastructure Academy.

In the meantime, Ali continues to urge the district government to implement lead elimination programs for residents and increase access to water filters.

“It would be a safe analysis to say that [some of the] lead service lines go to our schools,” Ali said. “The government should look at clusters, blocks and communities. Apart from the infrastructure, the government must bring the programs to the people.

A Look at District Schools and Daycares

Legislation approved by the DC Council in 2017 designates 5 parts per billion (ppb) as the threshold for filter replacement and lead disposal in district schools, but many advocates cite any type of lead exposure as dangerous.

Lead exposure can damage a child’s brain and nervous system, which slows growth and development and increases the likelihood of learning and behavior problems. Adults exposed to lead often suffer from high blood pressure and problems with the brain, kidneys and reproductive organs. In recent years, advocates have deemed DC Water’s partial lead service line replacement projects insufficient to stop lead exposure.

The district is estimated to have more than 28,000 lead or galvanized iron pipes, which DC Water intends to replace by 2030.

Projects initiated by DC Water involve main water replacement, emergency repairs, and projects related to the DC Department of Transportation. In areas where DC Water is not planning construction, homeowners can participate in two programs through the DC Department of Energy and Environment to receive discounted lead replacement services.

Since the Prevention of Childhood Lead Exposure Act was passed, some district schools have had lead pipe replaced as part of capital improvement plans. A DC Department of General Services (DGS) representative said that given the sporadic nature of high lead readings, the DC government has chosen to collectively carry out remedial action in all public schools in the district.

Over the past five years, DGS has recorded 65 cases where drinking water in schools in the district had lead readings over 5 ppb. In the 2021-2022 academic year, only 10 devices at DCPS facilities tested above 5 ppb before performing lead remediation. After this procedure, none of the pipes previously tested had levels above 5 ppb. DGS said 70% of devices with high lead level readings were based in Wards 7 and 8.

In situations where DGS detects high levels of lead in school drinking water, contractors shut off the water source, replace the filter, and perform another test. The process, most of which involves lab testing, takes two weeks. However, some advocates, like those representing Black Millennials 4 Flint, have questioned whether school officials were erecting signs near the contaminated water source informing students and community members of the lead reading.

Black Millennials 4 Flint member Michelle Mabson also relates to whether children are being tested for lead exposure and the extent to which officials have taken lead readings in child care centers and child developmental facilities. located in single family homes.

“If we know that lead is ingested in schools, recreation centers, daycares and homes, and we know the effects of lead and neurocognitive damage, the question is whether we are testing children as often as needed,” Mabson said. .

“The other question is what do you see in these schools at the higher levels where the students are struggling?” Mabson added. “What is the connection with lead? This has an impact on students’ academic performance. We can see this in some places across the city where high levels of lead can be detected. »

Lewis George said we cannot afford to ignore the long-term effect of lead poisoning on children.

“Young people absorb four to five times more lead than adults,” she said. “They are vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and may experience impacts on their developing brains and nervous systems. This presents itself in different ways with children who end up with behavioral and intellectual disabilities.

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