"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lead Poisoning Atrocities in D. C. Schools

WaPo reports today that Marc Edwards, a persistent engineering professor from Virginia Tech, has uncovered evidence through a FOIA filing that shows official manipulation of the lead testing done in DC schools following the 2004 media story on high levels of lead in school drinking water and across the City. So while Spellings pushes for more punishing tests to prove the failure of the most vulnerable, and while Mayor Fenty maneuvers to turn the schools over to private management companies, children and teachers who are the victims of "accountability" are also the continuing victims of lead poisoining through official neglect and cover-up. Who will be held accountable for the atrocity of allowing kindergarten children to be poisoned by lead levels up to 60 times the maximum allowable limits?? From WaPo:

. . . . In February 2004, seven D.C. public schools were found to have high levels of lead. The testing occurred a month after media reports disclosed excessive levels of lead in drinking water across the city. School officials determined that the problem was isolated to specific drinking fountains and not a contamination of the main water line connected to the schools. At the time, water was shut off to the problematic fixtures and school officials vowed to replace them with newer ones.

Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech, said yesterday that he has been studying school lead levels for nearly two years. He said he discovered the problem after studying test data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request of water samples in the schools.

Officials conducting tests for D.C. schools "did not follow standard protocols [in the tests]. They used methods to make the lead look low when it wasn't," Edwards said.

Test data in an August 2006 report provided by Edwards showed that 10 of 13 water fountains at Watkins contained elevated levels of lead. Still, in a second draw, three of the 13 samples were elevated. Edwards said the standard requires using results from the first draw.

Data from Kenilworth last month showed that six of 15 fountains had elevated lead levels. In a second draw, the number dropped to five. One fountain, in a kindergarten classroom, showed lead levels at 1,200 parts per billion on the second draw, Edwards said. "That is a hazardous level of lead," he said. EPA standards recommend school water fountains should be taken out of service if the lead level exceeds 20 parts per billion.

Last night, schools spokesman John C. White said that since September, all five schools except Deal have either replaced the water fountains or their filters.

"It's unconscionable that parents were not told and children were allowed to drink that water and this has gone on for years," Edwards said, adding that no one responded to his offer to conduct the water tests for free. "I suspect there are other schools with serious problems that they haven't sampled yet."

The National Safety Council has this on the effects of lead on children:

Children under the age of six—and fetuses—are those at greatest risk of the health effects associated with exposure to lead. They are particularly vulnerable because at that age, their brain and central nervous system are still forming. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that interferes with the development of these systems as well as the kidney and blood-forming organs. Exposure to lead causes a wide range of health effects, and one of the interesting things about lead is that those health effects vary from child to child.

New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, 2003, indicates that children can lose IQ points at levels of lead in blood below the present official CDC level of concern of 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). More than ten years ago, the National Academy of Sciences wrote that "There is growing evidence that even very small exposures to lead can produce subtle effects in humans [.and] that future guidelines may drop below 10µg/dL as the mechanisms of lead toxicity become better understood." (Measuring Lead Exposure in Infants, Children, and Other Sensitive Populations, National Academy Press, 1993, page 3.) As it turns out, today there is widespread recognition of the fact that there is no such thing as a "safe" level of lead exposure.

Even low levels of exposure to lead can result in IQ deficits, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, stunted or slowed growth, and impaired hearing. At increasingly high levels of exposure, a child may suffer kidney damage, become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has been associated with a significantly increased high-school dropout rate, as well as increases in juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior.

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