The crisis that began unfolding in Flint, Mich., in 2014 provides a tragic reminder of the dangers of lead exposure. The drinking water of an entire city had been contaminated with lead. More than 8,000 children under the age of 6 drank lead-contaminated water.
A potent neurotoxin, lead affects how our children learn, grow and behave. According to the EPA,"In children, low levels of [lead] exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells."
Now we know this toxic threat extends well beyond Flint. Even the limited available data shows drinking water laced with lead at schools and early childhood programs across the country, in big cities but also in suburban and rural communities.
Lead is so toxic that health experts say there is no safe level of lead. One drinking water fountain at a Montessori school in Cleveland had 1,560 parts per billion. A school in the Chicago suburbs had lead-water concentrations at 212 times the federal standard. Leicester Memorial Elementary in Massachusetts had a tap that tested at 22,400 ppb.
In all likelihood, these confirmed cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.