The weather is cooling down and soon the leaves will begin to change colors. For students and teachers across the U.S., that means packing up backpacks, setting up classrooms and heading back to school. Most of these teachers and students will be walking through the doors of decades-old buildings.
In the '50s and '60s, there was a huge demand for additional school buildings as baby boomers headed to school for the first time. Since that generation, there has been little need to build more, resulting in most school buildings being about a half-century old, if not older. The last time a study was conducted on the age of school buildings in the U.S., it was found that the average was 42 years old, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That was in 1998, putting those buildings at 61 years old today.
Over the years, building practices have changed and new discoveries have outlawed the use of certain materials, an important one being lead. According to Investigative Reporting Workshop, the dangers of lead weren't well known until the '70s, after many of today's school buildings were built. It wasn't until 1986 that lead pipes were banned from new construction and building repairs.
"It wasn't until 1986 that lead pipes were banned from new construction."
It's for this reason that the Water Quality Association made a call to action for school districts across the U.S. to test drinking water as the school year starts. As infrastructure continues to age, more lead can be leached into the water.
"Nearly all the lead in users' tap water is the result of materials in older pipes and fixtures containing lead coming in contact with water after it leaves the treatment plant," Pauli Undesser, WQA's deputy executive director, said in a press release. "As long as concerns about lead in drinking water persist, we're reminding authorities and the general public to take the appropriate steps to safeguard children and residents."
Undesser noted that some city school districts have already made efforts to ensure that drinking water is safe for children, including Chicago Public Schools, Philadelphia School District and District of Columbia Schools. The latter has even taken measures to test every individual drinking fountain at each school building.
Six schools in Wilmington, Massachusetts, found high levels of lead in their water fixtures, according to the Lowell Sun. It explained that each lead test costs $35, which will add up over the course of remedying the issues. This doesn't include the costs of replacing the plumbing.
In another part of the state, Burr Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts, will also be replacing its plumbing after a test from the main service line showed 52.5 parts per billion of lead, The Boston Globe reported. The Environmental Protection Agency allows a maximum of 15 ppb.
Consuming lead can have detrimental effects on children's health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even small amounts of lead that enter a child's bloodstream can have negative effects on health, IQ and the ability to pay attention in school. There is no known way to reverse these impacts.
Contractors who work with schools should have a plan available that can help school districts dispel concerns about cost. Students' health can't be neglected, and schools should take action if they believe there is a chance the pipes and other fixtures in their buildings contain lead.
To learn how you can offer financing to schools in your community that are looking out for the health of their students by replacing lead fixtures, reach out to Aqua Finance.