Ohio Gets an "F" for Failing to Address Lead in School Water

Ohio kids are in danger of lead exposure and the state isn't doing enough to stop it, a new report says

click to enlarge What's in those pipes? A new report suggests Ohio schools don't know. - FLICKR/CHRIS METCALF
What's in those pipes? A new report suggests Ohio schools don't know.

Lead is toxic, and a report shows that Ohio is failing to protect kids from it.

Released by from U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Environment America Research and Policy Center, "Get the Lead Out" grades each state (and Washington, D.C.) on how they're handling lead in drinking water in schools. Ohio is one of 27 states that earned an “F,” with a score of just 21 out of 200 possible points based on testing, lead limit in water, public disclosure, applicability of requirements and solutions.

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified,” according to the Center for Disease Control  (CDC) website. “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to negatively affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.”

As there is no amount of lead considered safe, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a limit for lead in drinking water of one part per billion (ppb). While some states have set their limits at five ppb, currently Ohio law recognizes 15 ppb in drinking water as hazardous to human health, well above this limit.

In the U.S. more than 24 million children are at risk of losing I.Q. points solely from low levels of lead exposure, according to the AAP.

In addition to damage to the brain, the CDC says lead exposure to children can cause problems with nervous system, development, hearing and speech, as well as slowed growth and development.

Yet Ohio has no regulatory requirements or state laws addressing lead in schools’ drinking water. The state previously used a program to test water at 14 percent of schools. However, the program ended in 2018.

The state does have free voluntary testing available to licensed childcare providers who register with the Ohio Lead Testing in Child Care Programs, though currently it's only available in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, and Lucas counties.

To protect kids, the report recommends using filters certified to remove lead, enacting policies to prevent the usage of plumbing that leaches lead into water, replacing all lead service lines, require frequent testing, immediately shutting off taps where tests find lead and disclosing publicly the presence of lead in infrastructure and remediation plans.

Cleveland housing has lead problems, too. In 2019 Cleveland passed legislation requiring rental property owners to certify their units are safe from lead, but less than 10 percent of rental homes meet that requirement today. Lead Safe Auditor Robert Fischer told the City Council that Cleveland is only receiving about 1,000 certification applications quarterly, less than half of the roughly 2,500 it should.

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