Across Vermont, students in schools are drinking water contaminated by a potent neurotoxin that experts agree causes irreversible damage to children’s health. That neurotoxin is lead, and it’s likely that most of the students, teachers and staff at these schools don’t even know it’s in their water.
A few months ago, 16 schools across Vermont were tested for lead as part of a school lead testing pilot program. Every single one had lead in its water at 1 ppb or higher — which exceeds health recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And because these schools were spread out geographically across the state, there’s reason to believe that this issue extends far beyond the 16 schools tested.
Teachers, staff and students attending Vermont schools are at risk for serious health problems from a toxic substance that scientists have been saying is dangerous for decades. Lead is highly toxic and can cause irreversible cognitive and behavioral problems in children. There is no safe level of lead and the damage done by even extremely small amounts is irreversible. That means the very place that students go to learn and grow could cause problems that affect their development for the rest of their lives.
Even though everyone agrees lead is extremely toxic, and even though it’s highly likely it will be found in schools across the state, the vast majority of schools haven’t been tested for lead in their water. Without this testing, it is impossible for schools and parents to know how big a toxic threat their children are exposed to every day.
The good news? The Senate just passed a bill (S.40) that would require testing at all schools within the next year. Parents would be notified of the results, all the data would be publicly available and all child care facilities would be tested, as well.
The bad news? The bill only requires schools to turn off taps that test above 3 ppb for lead — an action level three times higher than what the American Academy of Pediatrics considers safe.
This bill is a big step forward, but Vermont children deserve to be fully protected. That means the House should pass the bill, but with at least one major improvement: an action level of 1 ppb.
The effects of lead are irreversible. Luckily, the language in this bill isn’t. The bill is moving on to the House, so there’s still a chance to pass a bill that truly protects students, teachers and staff at schools across Vermont. But the House must listen to concerned parents and neighbors who want to see all taps that test above 1 ppb fixed this year.
It’s up to Vermonters to make that happen. Now is the time to send a letter, make a phone call and tell your representatives why you want them to pass S.40 with the action level for lead in schools lowered to 1 ppb.
Our schools are one of our most important resources. Vermont’s children are our future, and teachers and staff should be able to come to school knowing that our state supports them in creating a safe space to grow and learn. Nothing is more basic than clean, safe water to drink. The state should be doing everything possible to make sure that the water coming out of the taps isn’t toxic. And that starts with testing it.
Shaina Kasper is the state director for the Toxics Action Center Vermont and New Hampshire, and is a Montpelier resident. Don Tinney is president of the Vermont-National Education Association, and is a South Hero resident.