As the weather gets hot, I bug my kid to stay healthy, badgering him to wear sunscreen and a hat. Above all, I say at least 10 times a day, drink water.
I’m not so sure about this last piece of advice, though, ever since I received a letter from the city Department of Education about elevated lead levels it found in the drinking water at his elementary school. Parents all over NYC have received similar letters. The letter and the DOE’s subsequent statements include vague reassurances that the water is safe, but no specific plan to address the problem. This is terrifying for parents.
Lead is a neurotoxin, which means that it poisons the brain. It is linked to learning, behavioral and developmental problems. A staggering 83 percent of school buildings have at least one outlet with lead levels above the threshold considered dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency.
These findings are particularly disturbing because Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pre-K program has led to more young children in city schools. What’s more, the mayor recently proposed expanding that program to 3-year-olds. The younger a child is, the more dangerous lead exposure can be for his or her developing brain.
My friend Tish Doggett, another parent at my son’s school, takes the issue of lead in school water personally. Both of her children have had learning problems due to lead paint exposure when they were babies. Doggett has been writing to public officials and attending Community Education Council meetings in Brooklyn’s District 15, which includes Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.
“Parents don’t know how bad this can be, until it’s too late,” she worries. In District 22, which includes parts of Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay, parents also have raised the issue at education council meetings.
Borough presidents have demanded that students in affected schools be given an alternate water supply (like bottled water) and be tested for lead poisoning, and that the department improve water filtration. The city has called these measures unnecessary, pointing out that there has not been a known case of lead poisoning caused by drinking water in city schools.
All of us deserve a better response, and soon.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.