Tennessee could be failing to prevent school children from being exposed to dangerous levels of lead. That’s according to a new report from national environmental research group Environment America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
In their review of 32 states, Tennessee was one of 22 states that received a failing grade in addressing the amount of lead in drinking water. The report says the state’s limit is too high.
The review comes just after a Tennessee law went into effect this year. It requires schools to stop their water service if there’s 20 or more parts per billion of lead.
That might not seem like much. But, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one part per billion is unsafe, because kids are small and their brains are still developing. Even a little amount of lead can have an impact, so Tennessee was given a failing grade, says John Rumpler, co-author on the report.
“Tennessee, while it does require testing and it does require shutting off of the fountains, it doesn’t actually require schools to replace the fountains, replace the faucets, put on filters."
Still, Tennessee’s new law aligns with the EPA recommendations. It also requires local schools boards to develop policies around lead testing.
Metro Nashville Public Schools started doing this in 2016, before there was a state law. It now retrofits or removes fixtures that test above 5 parts per billion. The district's 2017 testing found 38 instances of lead contamination above health advisory levels.
But, most school districts in Tennessee have never tested for lead at all.
"Rush your kid to the hospital? No. But it's not water we want our kids to be drinking because of the known health impacts," says Rumpler.
Rumpler says other states led by conservative governors have put more resources into lead testing. He cites Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who put $30 million in his proposed budget to help schools get lead out.
In Tennessee, Rumpler says schools should proactively install filters and replace all faucets and fountains installed before 2014, because they contain significant amounts of lead.