Chicago Schools Scramble to Deal with Lead Contamination

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

At Mather High School in Chicago’s West Rogers Park, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool pledged to CPS, parents, and city officials that the financially-strapped district would pay whatever is necessary to eliminate the lead from water sources, to develop methods to test schools’ water on a regular basis, and to flush pipes at CPS physical plants.

The question is whether there will be money to do so, reports Juan Perez, Jr. for the Chicago Tribune. Officials said water-quality tests have not yet determined whether specific fixtures are more apt to deliver high levels of toxic lead than others. One member of the meeting’s audience said parents want to be reassured.

Claypool replied:

“We’ll spend whatever it takes to remove any devices or any piping that might pose lead hazard risk. Whatever that is, however much it costs, we will do it to make sure that our water pipes are safe and that our children, your children, are safe.”

Although all test results have not come in, 27 schools had at least one faucet that delivered water with lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion. The Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water, which can contain lead levels no higher than five parts per billion.

Claypool said it was too early to ascertain how much repairs will cost CPS, but the district is using its “credit card” to pay for testing thus far.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, discovered because of a change in water sources and a failure to take measures to combat corrosion, became the catalyst for renewed attention to lead contamination in public water supplies.

Public exposure to lead has decreased in recent decades due to the education of the public concerning leaded gasoline and lead-based paint. But there are no federal laws requiring schools to test for lead in water, and there is no enforceable limit to the amount of lead that can be discerned in school tap water.

The EPA and the CDC say there is no safe level of lead exposure. Contaminated water, say experts, can damage developing brains and pose additional risks to children.

The fixtures that have elevated levels of lead have been removed. But parents are questioning whether or not the district moved quickly enough. Chicago Water Management’s Gary Litherland said CPS moved swiftly to adopt a program and address the problems.

District leaders said all schools on all campuses will be tested, and parents will be informed as to the results of the measurements, reports Elizabeth Matthews for Fox32 Chicago.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Lauren Fitzpatrick, Claypool acknowledged that there was no budget for repairs and no way of knowing how much all repairs will cost when discovered and restored.

CPS has prioritized 324 elementary schools that were built before 1986, the year when lead pipes were banned, have cooking kitchens, or have a pre-K program. Cognitive issues have been linked to lead contamination in very young children.

District Chief Facilities Officer Jason Kierna said there was no noticeable pattern to the lead level patterns in the district’s schools.

“In the testing protocols we’ve gone through now, we have not been able to trend out any specific type of fountain or specific type of piping … where we can apply that across the district,” Kierna said.