HOUSTON – Texas’s largest school district says it will start testing the water that students drink for lead beginning next school year.
Thursday’s announcement comes weeks after KHOU 11 Investigates started looking into whether or not Houston-area school districts were monitoring for lead in drinking water.
It’s an issue that’s come to the forefront after high profile problems with lead in drinking water in Michigan and New Jersey.
School districts served by municipal water systems are not required to test water inside buildings under state and federal regulations. However, the EPA has recommended schools conduct lead testing for years.
Now, citing what he calls “growing concern for both school system and parents,” Ken Huewitt, interim superintendent of Houston Independent School District, is promising a “proactive and aggressive approach” to testing.
The district is pledging to test every water source accessible to students and to post the results online.
HISD says it will test all 158 elementary schools next school year.
Advocates say that’s important since younger children are most susceptible to lead exposure which can lead to problems including lower IQ levels, reduced attention spans and learning disabilities.
Plans call for the district’s middle and high schools to be tested in subsequent years.
Huewitt, in an email obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates, estimated the cost of testing the elementary schools will be $130,000.
Orell Fitzsimmons, field director for Local 100, the union representing HISD support staff, calls the amount a drop in the bucket.
The union called for lead testing, hoping it will provide parents and staff answers about the water they drink.
“The superintendent is doing the right thing” said Fitzsimmons. “We're going to find out if there is any lead or not. And if there isn't, that's what we want to know. If there is any lead in certain schools, we need to clean it up and fix it. There’s not one child that deserves to be infested with this stuff.”
HISD says it conducted random samples of water at five schools last March.
The district says all those samples came back within acceptable lead levels.
So far HISD has not answered KHOU 11 Investigates information request for those results.