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Water Tests Find Lead in Over Half of San Francisco Public Schools

Amid state pressure to lower water lead levels in public schools, the San Francisco Unified School District made it their mission to ensure students had safe drinking water by testing all of its schools for lead last year.

While most of the district’s schools met or exceeded federal and state standard, officials with consumer health group CALPIRG and the American Academy of Pediatrics argue no level of lead is safe, even it’s a small amount. Laura Deehan, an impact field director at CALPIRG, called the standards “outdated.”

San Francisco Schools

Only 65 of San Francisco schools met the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of lead levels of no more than one part per billion. (ABC 7 / video screenshot)

“They were set decades ago,” Deehan told ABC7. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that we really limit lead levels to no more than one part per billion.”

A recent report’s map showing the SFUSD’s lead test results revealed that 65 schools had less than one part per billion, 66 schools had between one and five parts per billion and 16 schools had lead levels at more than five parts per billion. Going by the state and federal limits of 15 parts per billion, more than half of the schools passed, with six exceeding the standards.

However, when the AAP’s recommendation of no more than one part per billion is applied, only 65 of San Francisco schools were right on the money. Aging pipes and old plumbing fixtures have been blamed for the district’s lead levels, according to the station.

Exposure to lead is harmful, especially for children. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that even low levels of exposure have been linked to central nervous system damage, impaired hearing, stunted growth and learning disabilities in children. Public health action is typically taken when the level of lead in a child’s blood is higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).

According to ABC 7, the SFUSD has since expanded its water testing, flushed its pipes and installed new water filters at most schools.

The six schools with the highest levels of lead included West Portal Elementary, Downtown High School, and Life Learning Academic Charter on Treasure Island.

“Those have been all mitigated, and we’re actually ready for the test results from the PUC, which will confirm that our efforts have been successful,” said Nik Kaestner, SFUSD’s sustainability director.

Watch more in the clip below.


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