DETROIT – Elevated levels of lead or copper have been found in the drinking water of nearly a third of the Detroit schools tested in response to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. These expensive tests are not required by state or federal governments, but many schools around the country are taking the precaution anyway. Some questions answered:
Q: What's so bad about lead and copper?
A: Exposure to lead can cause behavioral problems and learning disabilities in children, and kidney ailments in adults. Short-term exposure to copper can cause gastrointestinal distress, while long-term exposure can damage the liver or kidneys.
Q: How do these chemicals get into school water?
A: The problems mostly can be traced to aging buildings with lead pipes, older drinking fountains and water fixtures that have parts made with lead. The average age of school buildings dates to the 1970s. Lead pipes were banned in 1986. Brass fixtures were ordered to be virtually lead-free in 2014.
Q: Do schools and day care centers have to test for lead?
A: Most schools are not required to do testing. Only schools and day care centers that operate their own water systems — that's about one of every ten — are required to test for lead, under federal rules. The 90,000 public and private schools and day care facilities relying on treated water from municipal systems are not required to test, although some do, in the interest of safety.
Q: Is anyone looking to require it at all schools?
A: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is asking lawmakers to spend $18 million over two years for water testing in all schools across Michigan. State lawmakers have proposed legislation to require testing in all schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.