It is common practise to keep painted toys away from young children so they are not inclined to put them in their mouths, due to the risk of lead exposure. But now it has become common practise in schools in the Portland School District, along with other districts in Oregon, to warn the students to not put water in their mouths for risk of lead poisoning. It is intolerable to think that students are risking their well-being by drinking something as common and necessary as water. Parents, along with teachers, are now raising the call to have water fountains, spouts, sinks, and solder and fittings checked and/or replaced due to the increased risk to their children. It is one thing for the older schools, especially those built before 1980, to have issues due to the lead solders and fittings, but it is quite another when the newest school, Rosa Parks Elementary, built in 2006, is also sounding the ‘lead alarms’. An Oregonian article written by Brad Schmidt, earlier this year, expresses how 11 locations within the school had high lead readings, and in the classrooms themselves, some had readings 11 times greater than the federal action level. It is difficult to imagine an environment where a student needs to be cautious within his or her own classroom. This revelation was a shock to many parents because they did not believe they had any reason to be concerned about lead levels in a relatively new building. But unfortunately, this is not the case.
Even if schools are tested for lead, the results are not shared with the public. Furthermore, on paper there are programmes such as “Lead in Water Program”, with a job description for a senior manager for health and safety, but no real action has come of it. As is seen more often than not, it is the parents raising the call for their children. The administration and policy makers are leaving everything in the hands of the parents. But how are the parents meant to speak up about their concerns when they do not even know all of the facts. In an article in The Oregonian written by Talia Richman in June, 2016, she records a statement made by the deputy executive directors of the Oregon School Boards’ Association, “Once you find something, how are you going to fund that mitigation? Any amount for some school districts is going to be a pretty dramatic impact. The state has to recognise that, yes we want to make our facilities safe, but it’d sure be nice for some school districts to get help”. It is appalling when the health of our students is dependent upon whether a school or school district has enough money to keep them safe. Health should be a school’s primary concern. But when it comes down to reality, our children are the ones who are affected the most.
This issue is not only a concern for Portland residents. In Medford earlier this month, two elementary schools had to shut off their drinking water because of incredibly high lead levels. This discovery was quite shocking due to the fact that all of the plumbing, at both schools, was replaced in 2009 and there were no indications of high levels during testing from 2011-2015. This raises a larger issue for parents. Even though these schools were tested rather regularly (every year), how are parents meant to know when to worry? If information is not shared with the public, how are they to know they are putting their children at risk by leaving them at school? In the case of the two Medford schools, water bottles were distributed to the students during their summer camp programme and notices were sent to parents. If school districts do not have the money to fix the situations that are causing these high levels of lead in drinking water, it is still the parents’ rights to be informed. The school has the responsibility to inform their teachers, students and families, even if this means merely sending a notice home with the student; this allows the parents to at least explain to their child that they should not drink from the water fountains, and to provide them with water bottles during the day. In a Beaverton middle school, classrooms are being provided with water coolers so the students have access to water. This however, creates distractions in the classroom and further takes away from their learning. Although this is a solution to the symptoms, it is not a solution for the disease. Therefore, it is again on the parents’ plates, along with the teachers, to be diligent and look out for their children.