Lead found in Wake County schools prompts change in legislation

Madeline Vessey, Editorials Editor

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Photos by Jason Gillman
Lead found in Wake County school water fountains such as the one above.

The drinking water crisis currently occurring in Flint, Michigan, brought the issue of lead contaminated water to the the nation’s attention. However, one thing many people do not understand about this issue is that it may be more widespread across the United States than it is perceived to be. It does not only impact schools in Flint, but many schools in North Carolina as well.

The lead that is found in water ended up there for two reasons, the first being a contaminated water supply, the second being the corrosion of older fixtures and pipes. As these fixtures and pipes get older and water sits inside them, lead leaches from the pipes and fixtures into the water supply.

Despite lead piping and fixtures being banned in 1986, a 8% lead content was allowed in these items up until 2014. This means that even relatively new schools may still have these partially lead fixtures and piping. While this number might seem significantly lower and by comparison, better than regulations used to be, any amount of lead in water can have devastating impacts on the human health.

Adults who are exposed to lead in drinking water for a long period of time may experience cardiovascular issues, decreased kidney functions and reproductive issues. However, the biggest health effects of lead poisoning are in children. In a child, even low levels of exposure that would not commonly impact adults can permanently damage a nervous system drastically. This can cause another assortment of issues such as learning disabilities, low IQ, slowed growth and disrupted functioning of blood cells.

Alarmingly, a study released by Environment America Research and Policy Center and U.S PIRG Education Fund, graded states on amounts of lead in drinking water in schools and North Carolina was one of twenty-two states that scored a failing grade in that regard.

If these health consequences are not enough to persuade North Carolinians that changes need to be made, the lead in the water can also increase levels of delinquency in students and can lower overall student performance levels across the state.

Currently schools in North Carolina are not required to test for lead in their drinking water, but thankfully, in response to this issue, North Carolinian Lawmakers introduced House Bill 386. If this bill is passed, it would require all public schools and childcare facilities to test and monitor lead levels in drinking water. This bill would also acquire up to $8 million for the state to fund the process of testing water and eventually repair and replace all contaminated school water systems, further protecting students from lead poisoning.

The children and students need to come first as they are the ones who are affected the most adversely by even the smallest amounts of lead contamination. The fact that it is 2019 and North Carolina does not even test for lead in school water is alarming. If North Carolina still cares about its students and about safe drinking water within the state, there is no reason why this bill should not be passed and supported by all.