The “do not drink” flag is being raised at hundreds of schools and daycare centers around the U.S.
Investigative journalists from USA Today Network published their findings about elevated and dangerously high levels of lead in drinking water. By Thursday morning, the probe gained traction on media and news websites, and on social media. Few areas of the country, if any, were spared the frightening reality that public health has been compromised for prolonged periods.
Stories from Arizona to Ohio, New Jersey and Maine paint a picture of aging infrastructure and pipes that transport tainted drinking water to millions of people, according to the story:
The water systems, which reported lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency standards, collectively supply water to 6 million people. About 350 of those systems provide drinking water to schools or day cares. The USA TODAY NETWORK investigation also found at least 180 of the water systems failed to notify consumers about the high lead levels as federal rules require.
The post continued:
A water sample at a Maine elementary school was 42 times higher than the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion, while a Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher, records show. At an elementary school in Ithaca, N.Y., one sample tested this year at a stunning 5,000 ppb of lead, the EPA’s threshold for “hazardous waste.”
The public speaks
In upstate New York, leaders of the Ithaca City School District reportedly failed to tell parents of the elevated lead levels they discovered last year. Even though the first test results came back in September, parents didn’t learn of the problem until February, the newspaper said. That’s despite mandates to notify the public within 30 days.
Earlier this month, resident Melissa Hoffman “forcefully pleaded with officials at a public hearing packed with upset parents demanding answers. She said: “This is most definitely a problem that needs emergency care."
The response from local leaders?
Superintendent Luvelle Brown blames “internal and external communication problems” but wouldn’t elaborate except to say personnel issues were involved. He said he wasn’t told about results of the August tests until months afterward and shared them days after he learned them — adding he understands the gravity of the issue, since “my child drinks out of the faucets every day.”
Earlier this year, the tainted water story from Flint, Michigan—and the PR crisis that followed— thrust the health issue of children and lead into the news.
On March 9, officials in Newark, New Jersey announced that water fountains in 30 school buildings had been shut off due to elevated lead levels. According to the Associated Press, some readings were above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. That level requires additional testing, monitoring and remediation, said the AP.
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To quell public concerns, city and state officials held a presser this week. Body language aside, Mayor Ras Baraka said: "I understand in the Flint environment that any sign of elevation is going to make everyone go haywire, but here, the water system in Newark is still safe, it's still drinkable."
An update came on Tuesday when Newark’s health director Hanaa Hamdi announced
that 17,000 students will be screened for lead. The testing will start with some 2,000 toddlers who attend early childhood centers, but a specific date hasn’t been set yet.
As word of the widespread lead problems became known, embattled Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was taking heat from the Senate Oversight Committee. At a hearing in Washington, DC on Thursday, Snyder was blasted for his administration’s handling of the Flint water crisis.
Communicators, how is this issue playing out in your area?