CALPIRG Statement on San Diego Unified Lead Policy

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Jason Pfeifle

Today our Public Health Advocate, Jason Pfeifle, joined San Diego school officials to announce the district’s new policy for protecting kids from lead in drinking water. The new plan requires the district to test all drinking water outlets for lead and to do physical repairs anytime a water tap tests positive for lead at 5 parts per billion of higher. This new standard is one third of the level of lead currently allowed in school drinking water by California policy. This new policy was adopted in response to CALPIRG calling on the school district to adopt more stringent standards for ensuring safe drinking water for kids. 

Statement by CALPIRG Public Health Advocate Jason Pfeifle: 

Our schools should be a place for children to gain IQ points, not lose them because of lead exposure. Lead, as we all know, is highly toxic to kids, and even small exposures can do permanent damage to children’s cognitive development. Recent research shows that even at blood levels lower than 5 micrograms per deciliter, lead can still cause diminished intellectual and academic abilities, higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD, and poor growth in children. That’s why pediatricians across the country stress that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.

Unfortunately, old pipes and plumbing fixtures are commonplace in schools around the country, and lead wasn’t completely banned from pipes or plumbing fixtures in California until 2010. Therefore, far too many schools’ drinking water has tested positive for unsafe levels of lead.

San Diego Unified is no different. But after 57 drinking water outlets tested positive for lead, the School Board decided to act. And the policy they adopted is, to our knowledge, stronger than any other school district’s in California.

We applaud the San Diego school board for committing to: (1) Test all drinking water outlets for lead, and (2) Do physical repairs anytime a water tap tests positive for lead at 5 parts per billion or higher.

This new policy is an important step forward for protecting children’s health from lead exposure.

Schools should not stick their head in the sand on this issue by refusing to test their water. And schools should definitely not fail to act when tests reveal lead in their drinking water.

Unfortunately, we also know that wherever there is lead, there is risk for contamination. The more schools can pro-actively replace the lead pipes, plumbing, and fixtures that are the source of lead contamination, the better off our children will be.

We know that the San Diego school board shares our ultimate goal of ensuring that there is never any amount of lead in the water our children drink at school. To get there, we look forward to working with the district on further steps, including a plan to meet a 1 part per billion standard for lead in drinking water 

San Diego Unified’s new policy is an important step forward. Other school districts in California should take note and move quickly to get the lead out of their drinking water. Our children’s health and future success depends on it. Thank you.