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Parents demand legislative action protecting children from lead poisoning

Parents demand action to prevent lead contamination in school water

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Parents gathered at a community forum Tuesday night to demand legislative action protecting children from lead poisoning at Marion County schools.

Elevated levels of lead were previously detected in drinking water samples from 161 local schools or school facilities that participated in voluntary testing, according to a report published in Jan. 2019 by the Marion County Public Health Department.

There were 8,842 water samples from 297 facilities that were tested during a 16-month period ending “sometime in 2018,” health officials said.

The samples were sourced from areas accessible to children, including water fountains, sinks and athletic facilities.

Retesting was conducted following remediation efforts; elevated levels of lead were not detected in any samples during retesting, the report states.

The public “Lead in Drinking Water” report does not specify how much lead was initially detected in each contaminated water sample.

A 50-page document published Sunday in an IndyStar column — purported to be internal health department findings — show lead levels in the contaminated samples ranging from approximately 20 ppb to 8,630 ppb.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) require remediation to reduce contamination when lead concentrations exceed the “action level” of 15 ppb.

Marion County health officials did not confirm the accuracy of the figures in the purported internal document, which was previously unavailable to the public.

Curt Brantingham, a spokesperson for the health department, did not immediately answer emailed questions from News 8 about whether parents of schoolchildren were informed of initial testing results showing elevated lead levels in school drinking water.

Brantingham also could not immediately specify when remediation efforts began in affected schools. The timeline could provide families with valuable information about how long students may have been exposed to elevated levels of lead in school drinking water.

There is no safe blood level of lead in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement,” the CDC website states.

Prolonged lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage, behavioral changes in children and developmental delays in children, according to a Harvard Medical School publication.

High levels of lead poisoning can cause seizures and death.

There are no laws mandating regular testing for lead contamination in school drinking water in Indiana. There are also no laws mandating regular lead exposure testing for all children in Indiana.

During a community forum Tuesday night at an Indianapolis church, families called for legislators to support four bills pending in the Indiana General Assembly aimed at reducing Hoosier children’s exposure to lead.

“I hope to see that every child will be required to be tested in the schools,” said Leslie Bassett, whose 9-year-old grandson attends a Pike Township elementary school. “I hope there’s legislation that [mandates] what we do once we find that there are those issues.”

A second public forum about concerns surrounding childhood lead exposure is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the IU McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.