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Community leaders, environmental groups urge HISD to get 'alarming' levels of lead out of schools

They want the state's largest school district to replace water fountains with hydration stations equipped with filters that remove lead.

HOUSTON — Community leaders and environmental groups are urging Houston ISD to take action to remove "alarming" levels of lead from all schools. 

In a letter sent to HISD Wednesday, they point out that 2016 testing voluntarily  commissioned by the district found lead in 84% of its schools. 

"In Houston, our children are drinking water contaminated with lead on a daily basis," said Michael Lewis with Environment Texas.

The district has said it fixed drinking fountains with higher levels of lead. But updated guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency say even small amounts of lead can be harmful -- especially to children -- because it's such a toxic metal. 

The Coalition of Community Organizations, Environment Texas and TexPIRG are calling on HISD to replace water fountains with hydration stations equipped with filters that remove lead.

Potential effects of lead exposure in children

According to the EPA, low levels of lead exposure in children have been linked to:

  • Damage to the central and peripheral nervous system 
  • Learning disabilities
  • Impaired formation and function of blood cells
  • Hearing issues
  • Short stature
  • ADHD
  • Antisocial behaviors 
  • Depression
  • Lower IQ
  • Anemia

HISD 2016 lead testing results

The three groups calling for action say they examined lead testing results from 250 HISD schools that get water from the City of Houston. If lead abatement was performed after the 2016 tests, post-repair test results were used. 

Here's a breakdown 

  • They say 84% of the schools -- or 216 out of 257 -- had lead in at least one water tap.  
  • Over one third of taps tested were positive for lead contamination. 
  • 57 schools in the district had 10 or more taps with traces of lead above 1 parts per billion (ppb) in water. 
  • There are five water fountains at Golfcrest Elementary School that tested at levels well above 20 ppb on the initial testing report on November 16, 2016. After repairs and are-test report were completed on February 24, 2017, three of these fountains continued to show lead levels above 20 ppb even after being fixed. There is no public evidence of further repairs.
  • Milne ES showed lead contamination in 44 of their 50 tested water sources.
  • Only 6.6% of HISD schools had no contaminated taps.

HISD schools with the most lead contamination

The following schools reported 10 or more water sources with lead:

  • Ashford ES 12
  • Attucks MS 23
  • Bell ES 12
  • Bellaire HS 17
  • Black MS 10
  • Bonham ES 13
  • Breaburn ES 14
  • Brookline ES 10
  • Burbank ES 11
  • Bush ES 13
  • C. Martinez ES 23
  • Chavez HS 17
  • De Zavala ES 12
  • Deady MS 10
  • Edison MS 21
  • Energy Institute HS 13
  • Fleming MS 16
  • Fondren MS 16
  • Forest Brook MS 17
  • Garcia ES 17
  • Gregg ES 12
  • Halpin ES 19
  • Harris, R.P. ES 10
  • Hartsfield ES 15
  • Henderson, J.P. ES 11
  • Herrera ES 17
  • High School for Law And Justice 13
  • HSPVA 12
  • Jones Futures Academy 16
  • Jordan HS 10
  • Lamar HS 18
  • Lanier MS 10
  • Lyons ES 16
  • Madison HS 24
  • McReynolds MS 10
  • Meyerland MS 18
  • Milby HS 10
  • Milne ES 44
  • North Forest HS 17
  • Oak Forest ES 18
  • Poe ES 22
  • Revere MS 13
  • Rogers, T.H. 11
  • Sam Houston MSTC 25
  • Scarborough HS 15
  • Sharpstown HS 13
  • Stevens ES 12
  • Terrel MS 12
  • The Rice School/La Escuela Rice 10
  • Thomas MS 19
  • Valley West ES 12
  • Washington HS 13
  • Wesley ES 13
  • Westbury HS 17
  • Wisdom HS 11
  • Yates HS 20
  • Young Women's College Preparatory 13

How to get the lead out

The groups believe the best way to ensure drinking water is safe for children is to remove all water fountains. 

They want HISD to replace the fountains with water bottle/hydration stations at a ration of 1 per 100 students and staff. They say all water outlets used for drinking or cooking should also be removed.

In the letter, they suggest HISD could use funds from the $1.1 billion in emergency relief the district received or money from the new federal infrastructure law. 

We've reached out to HISD for comment but haven't heard back yet.

A 2016 investigation by KHOU 11 found that the majority of area school districts weren't testing for lead at that time.

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