The federal government had a chance to address this problem nearly 30 years ago.
What's happened to kids during that time is unknown, but it can only have had negative health effects for which it now will be almost impossible to identify the source.
That source could be our schools.
After a portion of a 1988 federal bill to provide funding to schools to address lead contamination in schools was rejected by the courts, a new bill has finally been introduced that would get money to states to test for lead contamination.
What the hell took so long?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children are particularly susceptible to health effects from lead, as younger kids absorb four to five times as much lead compared to the same exposure by adults. Lead attacks the central nervous system and brain, potentially leading to convulsions, coma and death. Some kids who suffer severe lead poisoning can be left with serious mental health issues and behavioral problems. Even at low levels, lead can cause learning disabilities, lower IQs and long-term damage to internal organs.
This stuff is nothing to be casual about.
Sen. Charles Schumer, reacting to the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., and in the discovery last month of lead in the drinking water at Ithaca schools, has introduced a bill that would provide school districts with $100 million in grants to help them test for lead.
School districts using municipal water systems aren't required to test for lead contamination because water is tested for lead at municipal water treatment plants.
But between the treatment plants and the school buildings might be miles of pipe either made of lead or soldered together with lead. School buildings themselves might also have piping that contains lead, especially those built before 1986, when lead pipe was outlawed in construction.
In older communities like the ones we have around here, testing for lead in school buildings might very well uncover the same problems found in Ithaca, Binghamton, Newark, N.J., and other older cities.
For the past 30 years, kids may have been potentially exposed to lead contamination while slurping up water at hallway water fountains, washing their hands and filling drinking cups in classroom sinks, and showering in locker rooms.
The federal and state governments didn't see fit to even provide funding to test the water in the one place where our children spend six to eight hours a day, 10 months a year, for 13 years.
As with almost anything, it takes a tragedy like Flint or a fortunate discovery like that in Ithaca for government to take action.
Our representatives and senators in Congress might not be able to agree on much these days. But they should be able to come together on the need for the federal government to step up and help states address this problem by providing funding for lead tests of the water in schools.
In addition, Congress should consider another bill that would provide tax credits for residents and landlords to test for lead contamination. And local school districts should consider adding the cost of filters that remove lead from water to their annual budgets.
If government officials have a bigger priority than the health of our children, we'd like to hear about it. So far, we can’t think of one.
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