A hidden scandal America's school students exposed to water tainted by toxic lead
Elevated levels of lead have been found in schools across the US, alarming experts who say it is particularly harmful to children
When Shakima Thomas came home one day last October, she found a piece of paper wedged in her door telling her the water in her home could be contaminated with lead.
Thomas, a social worker in Newark, New Jersey, knew what it meant – that the tap water she and her four-year-old son Bryce had been drinking could have profound effects on their health.
“My kid loves water – he loves it – so it was difficult telling him not to drink the water,” Thomas said. “He’s four years old and doesn’t understand.”
A century-long war to remove lead from Americans’ daily lives has been successful on some fronts, but a lack of regulation, political will and funding has meant the contamination of drinking water remains a public health crisis.
There “is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe”, the World Health Organization has warned. The heavy metal, used widely in the past manufacture of water pipes, can cause serious health problems in adults including high blood pressure and kidney damage as it accumulates in the body at high levels of exposure.
But children are particularly vulnerable to its toxic effects, which can affect the development of the brain and nervous system. Even low levels can impair a child’s IQ, academic achievement and ability to pay attention. US studies have shown lead-exposed children are more likely to be aggressive, leading to bullying, truancy and even jail.
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