Environmental group questions low lead levels in school drinking water


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District says they should be commended for going above and beyond when it comes to testing drinking water for lead.The district teamed up with the Lower Colorado River Authority to test all 130 campuses over the past two years.

It was good news for Stephanie Carter, who has two sons at Davis Elementary School.

“I don’t know what’s coming out of there,” said Carter, referring to the water fountains on their campus.

AISD’s move to check the water came after a KXAN investigation found the district did not do any testing because it’s not required by law, even though the majority of its campuses are more than 50 years old and have lead pipes and aging infrastructure. In light of that report, the school district voluntarily began the testing last year.

With the exception of one water fountain on one campus, AISD said all other lead levels were at zero or under the Environmental Protection Agency standard of less than 15 parts per billion.

“Many school districts, including Austin, hide behind a standard the EPA has that does not apply to schools,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas.

The environmental advocacy group is glad to see the district test the drinking water in schools, but says it should be using the lead guidelines set forth by The American Academy of Pediatrics, which believes water fountains in schools should not exceed water lead concentrations of 1 part per billion.

“Very low lead exposure level is associated with intellectual deficits, impairments and academic ability,” Dr. Whitney Schwarc said. “And higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders, hyperactivity and attention deficits.”

Under the AAP standard, the following facilities would not make the grade:

  • Ridgetop Elementary
  • Widen Elementary
  • Sanchez Elementary
  • Burger Activity Center
  • Noack Sports Complex

Austin ISD tells KXAN they follow the same City of Austin guidelines, and if it’s safe enough for children to drink at home, then it’s safe enough for school.

“I know schools have budgets and they have issues just like cities, and you can only do certain things at certain times,” said John, who has two grandchildren at Ridgetop Elementary. “But if it becomes a major issue to the parents who are paying the taxes then, yes, I think they should strive for better then just what the standard is — especially if it’s a health issue.”

Environment Texas wants to see filters on all the water fountains in question, or have those schools offer a different source for water.

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