With Lead in the Water in Oakland Schools, There Are Two New Laws Parents Should Know About

When you send your child off to school for the day, you expect him/her to be in a safe and healthy environment. The last thing that you want to think about is your student getting poisoned from the drinking faucet.

High Lead Levels in Oakland Schools

Lead contamination levels exceeding four times the federal health standards in water were discovered at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland recently. This was one of the seven public school sites in the Oakland Unified School District, where contamination levels of toxic metal in water were discovered. The amount of lead in Glenview Elementary School kitchen tap totaled 60 parts per billion, making the water at Glenview the most contaminated of the six other public school sites. Besides the temporary Glenview school site, federal standards for lead contamination levels were dangerously surpassed at Thornhill, Brookfield, Fruitvale, Joaquin Miller, and Burckhalter elementary schools, as well as American Indian Charter high school on the former Lakeview Elementary campus.

Even low levels of lead can harm children’s health, possibly affecting and damaging the brain and central nervous system according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continuous exposure can cause acute encephalopathy and/or irreversible organ damage resulting in extreme cognitive deficits in children and adults. No amount of lead in humans is considered safe.

Although Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation requiring all California public schools to test faucets for lead by 2019, the governor and the state legislation must be reminded that these measures for protecting school children from exposure to lead poisoning should have been on the books years ago. Meanwhile in Oakland, officials are continuing to test water taps across the school district. They have also asked the East Bay Municipal Utility District to conduct additional tests at all the schools.   

This is not an isolated situation. Tests have shown harmful levels of lead in water in public school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Fortunately, the majority of those school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties reacted by identifying, flushing, fixing and sealing hundreds of contaminated drinking fountains. Nevertheless, a Reuters report revealed that dozens of old home California neighborhoods have tested positive for harmful levels of lead. This news has made numerous California legislators anxious fearing that children exposed to lead may go undiagnosed under the status quo. California based doctors typically refer children for lead testing if the family verifies it is on low-income assistance programs and lives in a home that is over 40 years old with peeling paint.


How AB 1316 and AB 746 Address the Problem

The two bills that recently passed in the state legislature that address lead poisoning are AB 1316 and AB 746.

AB 1316 authored by Bill Quick, a Democrat representing Haywood has the State Public Health Department expanding routine physicians’ questionnaires to include questions assessing the risk of lead exposure. Questions would inquire whether the family lives near a former lead or steel smelter, a major highway, and if a child spends time in a home or building near those suspected environments. Those inquiries would result to having children tested, while providing more accurate data to the California State Health Department.

AB 746, authored by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Democrat representing San Diego, requires all California school districts to test their water for lead and fix or cap any contaminated water source.

How widespread is the problem? The CDC found that 5% of tested children in Flint, Michigan had elevated lead levels. So far in California, the State Department of Public Health has found that 2% of tested children have elevated lead levels. But this data goes back to 2012. Eight California zip codes in Los Angeles, Monterey and Humboldt counties have revealed lead rates higher or equal to Flint, Michigan. In one Fresno zip code, nearly 14% of the children tested had elevated levels of lead poisoning.    

Bill Quirk’s bill AB 1316 originally sought to require that all children get tested for lead by their health provider. Since the State of Public Health makes blood lead testing available for any child younger than six on Medi-Cal, or other low-income state benefit programs. However, the insurance industry, the California Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatricians lobbied successfully to get that particular requirement removed from AB 1316.

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