A few weeks ago, I was quoted in an AP article about the SIGG water bottle controversy as saying, "Sometimes I wonder: how much do I need to research? I'm just a mom trying to do the right thing for my kids. How deep do I have to dig to feel comfortable? Or do I just have to drive to school every hour and bring my kids a glass of water from my own tap?"
It was supposed to be a joke ... but today I'm not laughing.
An recent AP investigation found that contaminants such as lead, pesticides, and heavy metals have been found at alarming levels as thousands of schools across the country. The investigation found contamination at public and private schools in all 50 states -- in small towns and inner cities alike.
Contamination is most apparent at schools with wells, which represent 8 to 11 percent of the nation's schools. According to the AP's investigation of data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of every five schools on a well system violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade. But the problem is not limited to schools that use wells. Schools that draw water from public utilities showed contamination, too, especially older buildings where lead can concentrate at higher levels than in most homes. In schools with lead-soldered pipes, the metal sometimes flakes off into drinking water. Lead levels can also build up as water sits stagnant over weekends and holidays. Schools that get water from local utilities are not required to test for toxins because the EPA already regulates water providers. That means there is no way to ensure detection of contaminants caused by schools' own plumbing.
Overall, the number of schools found to contain unsafe drinking water represent only a small percentage of the nation's 132,500 schools. And the EPA says the number of violations spiked over the last decade largely because the government has gradually adopted stricter standards for contaminants such as arsenic and some disinfectants. But it's important to remember that they have adopted these stricter standards for a good reason. And our kids drink more water per pound than adults and are more vulnerable to the effects of many hazardous substances.
Of all the offending schools, California's schools had the most violations with 612, followed by Ohio (451), Maine (417), Connecticut (318) and Indiana (289).