By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County School System has participated in a webinar, which is the first step for the Clean Water for Georgia Kids Program, which will help public schools test for lead in water.
The Clean Water for Georgia Kids Program is a partnership between the Georgia Department of Education and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute. The program is free for public schools and funded by a United States Environmental Protection Agency Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation (WIIN) grant.
“With the Clean Water for Georgia Kids Program, we are excited to connect with schools across Georgia to provide convenient, science-based support to identify and mitigate lead at the tap,” said Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, a senior environmental health scientist and the RTI program director, in an rti.org press release.
“Our facilities director for our region from the Department of Education attended a conference this summer, where they heard about the initiative, and then he provided us with that information,” Dade County Schools Superintendent Josh Ingle said.
The program aims to test cooking and drinking taps with the help of school staff. Water samples will be collected and shipped to RTI’s Analytical Sciences Laboratory. The webinar detailed how to enroll, how to sample the water, and how to ship the samples back.
“I will have conversations with our board to gather their feedback and see which direction we want to go,” Ingle said.
Ingle noted that, if the schools do decide to participate in the program, they would only have to test the water used in the kitchen areas.
“Going forward, this would be an opportunity to find out for sure. The safety of all kids is top priority. Even before covid hit in 2019, we were already somewhat ahead of the game with installation of new water fountains,” Ingle said.
In all of the schools, there are now hands-free bottle filling stations.
“They have a filtration system built in. That’s supposed to filter out all the toxins. This is the only option we are allowing at that time, to fill the bottles. You don’t have to touch anything,” Ingle explained.
The rti.org press release states that lead can get into drinking water from piping and plumbing that carries water from tap to tap. Currently, schools and childcare centers within the public water supply are not required to, and therefore are usually not tested for lead at the tap.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, lead can be harmful to anyone, however, children under the age of six are at the greatest risk of being harmed by lead. Their bodies easily absorb lead.
For children, low levels of lead in their bodies can be just as harmful as high levels of lead. Low levels of lead (<10ug/dL) can result in: speech, language, and behavioral and problems, lower IQ, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder, and nervous system damage.
RTI will share the results of the testing with each participant, along with recommended actions that the school should take. Often, no-cost and low-cost solutions are effective at reducing exposure to lead, such as practicing clean water habits (using cold water for drinking or cooking), flushing water after periods of inactivity, installing water filters, and replacing old faucet fixtures with new stainless steel ones. In some instances, replacement of lines may be needed.