HISD to test for lead in drinking water in nearly all its schools
Copy of Article in Houston Chronicle
The Houston Independent School District announced Thursday that it will test for lead in drinking water at nearly all campuses over the next three years in "an abundance of caution" amid national health concerns.
The state's largest school district said it tested five of its 288 schools at random in March and found that lead levels in all samples were acceptable.
The district will start by testing all its elementary schools for the toxic metal during the upcoming academic year. All middle schools will be tested in 2017-18, and high schools not being rebuilt as part of the voter-approved bond program will undergo testing the following year.
The announcement followed a public request in June from union leader Orell Fitzsimmons. During a school board meeting, Fitzsimmons called on the district to test for lead in all schools.
"I'm so ecstatic that they're actually doing testing," Fitzsimmons, field director of United Labor Unions Local 100, said Thursday. "I think they're going to find some lead. And once they find lead, then the timeline's going to be expedited."
Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who recently helped uncover the water problems in Flint, Mich., said he can "almost guarantee" that Houston will have troublesome levels of lead in some schools, if the tests are conducted appropriately.
Edwards applauded HISD for rolling out testing, even though federal law does not require any such checks.
"The worst examples are the schools that never test because then you just don't know," Edwards said. "The sooner you get the bad news, the sooner you can prevent harm to your kids."
Schools built before 1986, when Congress passed a lead ban, are most at risk for having tainted water. Lead generally affects children more than adults and can cause serious health problems such as brain disorders, heart and kidney disease, and reduced fertility.
HISD estimates the cost to test its elementary schools will total $130,000. It did not provide cost estimates for testing at middle and high schools.
The Cypress-Fairbanks, Klein and Clear Creek school districts said they rely on local utility districts to ensure water safety. The area's other large public school districts did not respond to questions sent via email late Thursday.
Nationwide, about 1 percent of children from 6 months to 6 years old have been found to have elevated levels of lead, a significant reduction from decades ago, said Dr. Marcus Hanfling, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine who runs a lead and environmental clinic in Pasadena. Historically, he said, young children are tested for lead – and then a search for the source of the problem starts.
"This approach, checking the school water from a precautionary standpoint. makes more sense," he said.
The five HISD schools already tested are: Wharton Dual Language Academy; Hogg Middle School; Henderson Elementary School; Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men; and McReynolds Middle School. A district spokeswoman said there are no records of lead testing in prior years.