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Senator Concerned About Lack of Minn. Schools Testing for Lead in Water

September 09, 2016 07:26 PM

The list of Minnesota school districts not testing for lead in their water is growing after a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation, leading lawmakers and parents to call for changes.

“Disappointment that as a state we have not been aggressive on addressing this,” said Sen. John Marty (DFL- Roseville).

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The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that schools test each tap or fixture providing drinking water or water for food preparation for lead every five years. 

The EPA has guidelines for 10,000 US schools on private well water.

Sen. Marty spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reporter Eric Chaloux after Wednesday night’s investigation that found nearly 25 percent of the 600 Minnesota schools surveyed are not following state guidelines for water testing for lead.

The state of New York passed a bill this summer in the senate trying to make it a law that schools test their water for lead.

The state of Massachusetts this year set aside $2 million dollars to help schools pay for lead drinking water testing.

"This is public health, this is essential, I don't think we have an option but to try and address this," a topic Sen. Marty said he plans to bring up next session.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommends testing because lead levels in the water within the plumbing system of schools can vary due to the different parts of the plumbing system (i.e. lead solder, brass fixtures, water usage, and age of materials.)

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia to meet with Dr. Marc Edwards, a civil and environmental engineering professor that helped expose the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

"Unfortunately the issue of lead in school water was pretty much ignored until the Flint disaster," Dr. Edwards said.

Children are susceptible to lead expose because their bodies absorb metals at higher rates than adults and exposure to high levels of lead can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, red blood cells, and kidneys, according to the MDH.

"The harm from lead exposure—it's irreversible and there's nothing we can do to undo the past," Dr. Edwards said.

While at his lab, Edwards told Chaloux there need to be laws, not just guidelines, that require testing at schools.

"We really owe it to them to make sure it's safe," Dr. Edwards said.

Minneapolis Public Schools has tested seven buildings this year for lead, at a cost of $1,400.

Earlier in 2016, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken pushed the Senate Appropriations Committee for more funding to help schools test for lead.

Both provided reaction to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about the recent investigation.

"The water crisis in Flint brought awareness to a very serious national problem: lead is still present in many public water systems, and far too often, children are being exposed to this dangerous toxin, which can cause serious health and developmental problems," Franken said. "I support lead testing in schools, and I also want comprehensive legislative action to address lead that's still in our water systems or in our homes.”

“Parents across our state and country have every right to trust that the water their children drink while at school is safe and free from poisonous lead and other harmful contaminants,” Klobuchar said. “I have also asked for the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate closely with other federal agencies, as well as state and local governments, to ensure that data from public water systems is properly reviewed to prevent a future health crisis.”

The MDH said it has seen fewer child with high lead levels in the state than in recent years but they have limited data on school aged children, 3,174 Minnesota children aged 6 to 19 years were tested for a variety of factors in 2015.

“I do not believe that anyone should panic or immediately jump to negative conclusions but I am more interested in the lack of real data or testing of both the water and the children attending these schools,” said Sue Gunderson, executive director of The CLEARCorps, a national community lead education group based in St. Paul.

When looking at the reports in the map embedded below, keep in mind the Minnesota Department of Health's guideline for schools: If lead is at or below 20 parts per billion (ppb), the tap may be used for drinking water or food preparation. If lead exceeds 20 ppb, twice daily flushing should be done.

Eric Chaloux can be reached at echaloux@kstp.com or 651-642-4488.

Credits

Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2016 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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