NC schools get failing water-quality grades due to lead in water

North Carolina
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It was eliminated from gasoline in 1976, and paint in 1978, but many state and local leaders want to know how lead keeps ending up in drinking water in schools.

“There is no safe level of lead,” said Drew Ball of Environment NC.

“Flint was just the top of the iceberg,” said Keith Levine of RTI International.

Lead exposure can have serious implications for adults, but the larger concern is the impact it can have on children.

“Children are much more vulnerable at young ages because they absorb much more lead than adults do,” said UNC professor Jacqueline Macdonald Gibson.

Over the last several years, RTI International has tested nearly 1,300 taps in 86 schools and day cares across Wake, Durham, and Orange counties. It discovered that 16 percent had at least one tap with unsafe levels of lead.

“Because the buildings are larger and not used for long periods of time, the water has more time to stagnate in the pipes and buildings, leading for greater potential for lead exposure,” Macdonald Gibson said.

As a whole, the state of North Carolina received a failing grade for water quality, and Environment America says it’s not alone.

Twenty-two states flunked tests for elevated lead levels.

“You talk about how did this become a national problem,” said Rep. Harry Warren. “After World War II there was a lot of construction going on and there were a lot of lead pipes.”

“If there is a nice thing about lead in water, it’s that you can do something about it if you know the facts,” Levine said.

House Bill 386 seeks to allocate $8 million to schools for water testing. But, with the problems outlined, CBS 17 asked if that was enough to fix the problem.

“Sometimes, all it takes is installing a filter, moving a fixture, or flushing for water and using cold water,” Levine said.

The Wake County Public School System hasn’t had a school fail a lead test in at least the last three years.

A WCPSS spokesperson told CBS 17 it leaves water testing up to the public works departments in each community.

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