FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Monday, January 8th, 2017
Lead in Oakland School Water Still a Problem, say Parents and Local Groups
Coalition Calls for Stronger Action to Protect Kids
Oakland, CA – As kids come back to school today, tests continue to show problems with lead-tainted water at a number of Oakland schools. With the most recent tests, 45 Oakland schools and child development centers have now had at least one water tap that's failed to meet the pediatrician guideline for lead in school drinking water. Parents and local groups are calling for stronger action and a comprehensive policy that will ensure the water at Oakland schools is always safe for kids to drink.
"I don't want my kid, or any child, to attend a school where lead might be in the water," said Ayanna Davis, McClymonds parent and Director of Programs at Healthy Black Families, Inc. "It's not safe, and it's not okay."
Lead is highly toxic to children. Even small exposures to lead can cause permanent damage to children's cognitive development and increased rates of ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics says there is no safe level of lead and recommends a lead standard of 1 part per billion for drinking water at schools. California’s health department, OEHHA, has set the public health goal for lead in drinking water at 0.2 parts per billion.
"The district is still letting kids drink water from fountains that haven't met the pediatrician guideline," said Jason Pfeifle, Public Health Advocate with CALPIRG Education Fund. "How can that be safe for our kids?"
"This is not a financial issue for the district," said Dr. Vicki Alexander, MD, MPH, Founder of Healthy Black Families, Inc. "This is an issue of having courage to protect our children and their families from long term debilitating disease to the community. This is the time when we need to develop a policy that is equitable."
A coalition of groups submitted a letter to the district last month urging officials to immediately shut down any and all water fountains that tested positive for lead above 1 part per billion until needed repairs could be made. The letter also called for a new long-term water policy to ensure kids won't be exposed to any further amount of lead in the future.
"Over a million children in this country have been irrevocably harmed by exposure to lead in their schools and homes. And it's not an accident that communities with a large number of Black and Brown kids are where we see the most devastation, and governments doing the least to fix the problem," said Brandi Collins-Dexter, Director of the Media, Economic, and Environmental Justice team at Color Of Change. "We should've learned our lesson after Flint and Baltimore, yet here we are in Oakland, a city in the middle of an economic boom, and we still continue to let down our kids with reckless decision making. No more excuses, the district needs to take control and do right by Oakland families now."
"My son is a student at Claremont Middle School, and I'm really upset that the district still doesn't have a zero lead tolerance policy," said Laura Deehan, a local parent. "We've known that lead is poisonous for decades! How can this still be happening?"
Parents can find out if lead was found in drinking water at their school by reviewing test results on the district's website. Parents can also call the district office if they have questions about whether water taps that tested positive for lead below 15 parts per billion were removed from service.
Officials from the Alameda County Health Homes Department urged any parents concerned about possible lead exposure to get their kids tested for lead.
"Lead poisoning can cause permanent brain damage and/or other disabilities in adults and especially in children up to age six, "said Larry Brooks, Director of the Alameda Healthy Homes Department. "The brain damage can result in children being placed in special education classes and in some cases needing to be cared for by their parents throughout their lives. Any parent that has concerns their child has been exposed to lead from sources such as water, paint and soil should have them blood lead tested by their doctor immediately. The sooner the doctor tells us test results the sooner we can treat the child, identify lead sources, and reduce the chances of the child being harmed by continued lead hazard exposure."
As Oakland Unified looks into long-term solutions, the coalition of advocacy groups and parents continues to press for a comprehensive, zero-lead policy.
"People think the Flint water crisis was a one-time event, but it was government negligence that allowed it to reach the level it did. As Oakland begins to find high levels of lead in its own school drinking water, I really hope the school board takes this matter seriously and acts urgently," said Michelle Romero, deputy director of Green For All. "The fact that some schools were found to have lead levels as high as 56 ppb and a childcare center tested above 250 ppb (Centro Infantil CDC), is major cause for concern. No amount of lead is safe to drink. Parents deserve to know that the district is taking every possible measure to address the current issues, and will make sure this never happens again. That includes passing a comprehensive policy that calls for routine testing, installation of lead-removing water filtration systems, and regular maintenance on faucets and fixtures. The health and safety of students is absolutely critical to student success."
CALPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.
Healthy Black Families, Inc. supports the growth and development of Black families and individuals by providing community education, engagement, capacity building, and support for self-advocacy and empowerment.
Established in 1991, the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department has become a national leader in childhood lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes programs, combining health, environmental and residential hazard reduction services under one umbrella. Our unique multidisciplinary approach serves the community in order to eliminate environmental lead contamination, prevent childhood lead poisoning and improve health outcomes by addressing housing problems. The Program provides case management of lead poisoned children, community outreach and education, training, lead hazard reduction services, healthy homes interventions, and consultations.
Green For All is a national initiative to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. Green For All is an initiative of The Dream Corps, a social justice accelerator founded by Van Jones.