EL Parents Urge Board to Take More Action on Lead

Wednesday, May 25, 2016, 8:19 am
By: 
Karessa Wheeler

There is lead in the water of the drinking fountain In Shane Johnson’s fifth grade classroom at Marble Elementary School. But because the level of lead – 5 parts per billion - does not reach the “action level” of 15 parts per billion, the fountain is still in use by children every day. But that does not mean it is safe, parents told the East Lansing School Board Monday.

The same situation is repeated in every school in East Lansing School District, much to the concern of parents such as Patrick and Shari Rose. Their daughter is among the students in Mr. Johnson’s fifth grade.

“None of the students has been told. We need to teach them to protect their own health, give them autonomy and find an answer instead of allowing them to take in a toxin that affects their ability to learn,” Patrick Rose told the Board of Education Monday night. “This is an easily solved problem and I trust the Board to find the answer.”

On Friday, School Superintendent Robyne Thompson sent out an email to parents and teachers to update them with the results of more than 1,000 samples of water. As previously reported in Eli, 31 of those sites were found to have levels above the “action level” of 15 parts per billion. The water to all of those sites were immediately disconnected, Thompson said.

However, as the Roses reminded the Trustees on Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that there is no “safe” level of lead in drinking water, especially where young children are concerned. Any level of lead can lead to severe health concerns including disruption to the central nervous system, learning disabilities, growth problems, and impaired hearing.

Of the remaining sites throughout East Lansing schools, these contained lead levels that were above “below detectable limits” but below the action level of 15 ppb.

  • 67 sites in Donley Elementary, including three sinks with 14 ppb.
  • 33 sites at Glencairn Elementary, including a fifth grade sink with 14 ppb.
  • 42 sites at East Lansing High School, including one drinking fountain with 14 ppb.
  • 140 sites in MacDonald Middle School.
  • 51 sites at Marble Elementary School.
  • 64 sites at Pinecrest Elementary School
  • 68 sites at Whitehills Elementary School.

The full reports can be found here.

The largest problem, in the mind of Shari Rose, is that there are no regulatory standards for lead in school drinking water in Michigan. She commended the Board for being proactive in testing the water but wants them to ensure that all students, teachers and parents are fully aware of the results of the testing and that they understand that there is no safe level for lead, she told the Board.

“In every classroom, there is still lead. It is still corroding. Teachers need to know about this," said Shari Rose. “It is going through the pipes and shows up in unpredictable manners. We don’t know exactly what we have here in East Lansing. I urge you to continue to take this seriously. Lead can show up in places that are non-detectable.”

The Roses, who have been active in speaking out against the Flint Water Crisis, suggested placing signs showing the results of the testing above every source of water in the school system.

In addition to speaking to the Board Monday, Shari Rose sent out a letter to parents urging them to read the results and share with others.

“While the School District has put all fixtures that tested with 15 ppb of lead or more out of service, there are still many fixtures that showed significant amounts of lead that are still in use. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that lead can be sloughing off pipes and circulating within the buildings in unpredictable ways, showing up in fixtures that may have previously not shown any lead. The tests are a snapshot in time (sometimes the numbers may be higher and sometimes lower). The one thing the tests do tell us is that lead is leaching into the water in the schools,” Shari Rose wrote.

“Remember, there is no safe level of lead for children. Lead, the leading neurotoxin in children, bioaccumulates in the blood (read the EPA link in the letter for the impact of lead on children's development). Yet, schools are not required by the Safe Drinking Water Act in Michigan to test for lead in schools or daycares.”

According to Dr. Thompson, more water testing took place on May 7. The results have not yet been released.