Little boy drinking public water in the park

"According to the Arizona Department of Environment Quality, of the 13,380 taps tested at schools in Arizona, lead was detected in the water at 48%."

By now, school children in Arizona have brought markers, scissors, folders and other supplies to class. Although children are bringing items they need to learn and succeed, Arizona is failing to supply safe drinking water in schools across our state. According to the Arizona Department of Environment Quality, of the 13,380 taps tested at schools in Arizona, lead was detected in the water at 48%.

Given the weak safe drinking water standard ADEQ uses vs. the standard recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the widespread use of lead in faucets, fountains and plumbing, these confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are, in all likelihood, just the tip of the iceberg.

While Arizonans may debate on whether teachers are sufficiently paid or classrooms adequately funded, we should all be able to agree that children need safe drinking water at school. And we know that lead harms the development and health of children, even at low levels.

Fortunately, we also know how to solve this problem. To ensure that kids have safe water at school, we need to “get the lead out.” This means replacing faucets, fountains and other lead-bearing parts that can contaminate the water our children drink. Until we can ensure that our school’s water delivery systems are entirely lead-free, filters that are certified to remove lead will need to be installed on every tap used for drinking and cooking. And lastly, there needs to follow up testing to ensure that lead levels in school water do not exceed one part per billion — the limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

No doubt, this “get the lead out” regimen might seem daunting at first. When children are facing a big homework assignment, we tell them it is important to get started — piece by piece tackling the problem until the job is done. Children are also reminded to seek help from the resources around them — such as parents and teachers. The same approach is needed here.

Arizona school districts are going to need help with resources to ensure safe drinking water. The state can help, but the federal government also needs to step up with major funding to get the lead out. That won’t happen if Congress or the administration decides to cut EPA’s budget.

With the coursework laid out for solving this problem, now is the time for our leaders to declare their commitment to get the lead out of our schools’ water. Protecting children’s brains should be a no-brainer.

Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. The Arizona PIRG Education Fund conducts research & education on issues in the public interest.