School Business Affairs January 2019

22 JANUARY 2019 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS SAFE AND SECURE SCHOOLS Getting the Lead Out The time has come to focus our attention on this safety issue lurking within our schools. By Terri Carson, CPA Before the Flint, Michigan, water crisis of 2016, when Environmental Protection Agency authorities found dangerous levels of lead and other toxins in Flint’s drink- ing water, fewer than 43% of U.S. school districts tested their water for lead. When 50.7 million children spend a third of their waking hours in our nation’s 98,000 public schools and when hydrating with tap water has become a healthier and more environmentally friendly choice, the time has come to focus our attention on this safety issue lurking within our schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 535,000 children ages one to five have levels of lead in their blood that are high enough to cause health problems. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults because of their relative size. Lead consumption by children can affect the heart, kid- neys, nervous system, and reproductive organs and has been known to cause learning disabilities, impaired cogni- tion, delayed puberty, and hearing and behavioral prob- lems. At very high levels, lead consumption may cause Legionnaires’ disease, seizures, coma, and even death. When practitioners see elevated blood lead levels in children, the source is typically lead in dust, soil, or old paint. However, lead also is often present in older plumbing pipes and fixtures. According to James Meikle, director of maintenance for Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, the source of the lead is not always easy to find. “Sometimes, it requires testing of numerous components of the plumb- ing system to find and eradicate the source,” he explains. “That makes routine water testing on a rotating sched- ule throughout the school district necessary, especially when you have older school buildings. Since water that sits stagnant in plumbing that contains lead may absorb tiny particles of lead, it is important to test at times when the probability of lead is higher, like during the summer months when school water fountains are infre- quently used.” With our nation’s children at risk, one would think that federal laws would require schools to test their W hen school administrators think about school safety, their minds go immedi- ately to school security, visitor manage- ment systems, volunteer screening, and lockdown drills. It’s hard for us to imagine that an undetected sinister force could be residing in our schools—an intruder that carries no weapon but has the ability to physically harm our students with repercussions that affect future genera- tions. That intruder is lead in our schools’ drinking water. RAFAEL BEN-ARI/STOCK.ADOBE.COM