Lead contamination in Oakland schools’ water taps could cost $38 million to solve
02/28/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

To ameliorate the high levels of lead contamination in the water supplies of its schools, cash-strapped Oakland Unified revealed it will need to spend $38 million, reported The East Bay Times.

A representative of the California school district explained that $22 million will be spent on replacing worn-out water lines. The balance will be assigned to the purchase and installation of new fixtures that weren't contaminated by lead. The district intends to spread the constructions costs out over a period of five years, said spokesman John Sasaki.

Unfortunately, Oakland Unified is currently in the throes of a fiscal crisis. It's gotten bad enough that the school board recently reduced the mid-year budget by $9 million. The waterworks reconstruction project will need other sources of funding. According to The East Bay Times, the district is currently looking at local construction bonds, grant programs and drawing from this year's deferred maintenance funds.

Oakland Unified sets aside around three to five percent of its general funds for the purpose of maintaining its infrastructure, Sasaki said.

“This work would be funded in a way to protect classroom funding, and we are currently looking for funding to help pay for this work elsewhere,” he explained to the Oakland Tribune.

“So, there is no reason to believe that this work would cause budget reductions for the district,” he assured.

Sasaki also added that the $38 million figure is a rough estimate that requires thorough vetting of costs. (Related: Toxic superfood alert: Organic mangosteen powder found heavily contaminated with lead.)


Crisis mode

During the last school board meeting, Oakland United officials revealed that 15 of its member schools had at least one water fixture whose lead levels went above the federal recommended level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

Following this startling revelation, the school district began testing the quality of water fixtures at all its schools and several of the charter schools. A second round of testing will be conducted by the East Bay Municipal Utility District to see if the initial sweep missed anything.

In concurrence with the federal requirements, Oakland United has already removed and replaced some of the fixtures known to have high levels of lead. The others have been closed and are awaiting replacement.

The next step

Anti-lead advocates feel these measures don't go far enough. They urged Oakland United to go beyond the limits set by the federal government by replacing all water with lead levels greater than one ppb.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric, fixtures with lead levels exceeding one part per billion (ppb) can negatively effect children.

“Lead mimics iron and calcium, which growing children need,” warned Dr. Noemi Spinazzi, who serves as a pediatrician in Oakland.

Dr. Spinazzi explained that lead was very dangerous to children. The toxic chemical element was easily absorbed by their bodies and accumulated in their bones and important organs. Lead poisoning is linked to anemia, fatigue and  stunted growth. According to the doctor, high levels of lead in the body also makes it difficult for kids to learn new things, results in sub-par IQ levels and delays mental & physical development.

Those same concerns drove a petition containing the signatures of more than 1,000 residents. The signatories urged the school board to enforce mandatory testing of every water tap in the school district. They also asked Oakland United to lower the acceptable threshold of lead to one ppb.

“Lead is extremely harmful to children’s health," warned Jason Pfeifle, a member of the consumer group California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG). "Even small exposures to lead can do permanent damage to their cognitive development."

More leading news on water pollution at CleanWater.news.

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