Editorial: Flint, Chicago show school lead water testing needed

In the latest installment of "300 Miles from Flint: How Safe Is Our Water?" Assistant Managing Editor Jake Griffin points out that even after lead scares in Flint, Michigan, and at the Chicago Public Schools, half of the schools in the suburbs have not tested for lead in the water supply.

Given that the greatest obligation a school system has is the safety of the children in its charge, it is reasonable to ask, "How can that be?"

Especially considering that lead is particularly dangerous for children because of its irreversible adverse effects on brain development.

It "can be" because in Illinois there is no requirement that schools test the water supply unless the water source is a well.

We can perhaps understand the original rationale for the distinction between well water and lake water. It's not unreasonable to expect that well water is more apt to have contaminants.

But studies now show that lead can be introduced from a number of sources including faucets and aging pipes.

Beyond that, even more convincingly, tests of supplies from lake water sources confirm they can be contaminated with lead.

In today's installment of our series, for example, a drinking fountain at Stone Elementary School in Addison turned out to be contaminated with lead 212 times the federal safety standard.

Two-hundred-twelve times!

Any reasonable person understands that these water systems must be monitored. It's only common sense, and we owe that much to our children.

A bill in Springfield - Senate Bill 550 - that would require testing has been unanimously approved by voice vote of the House Environmental Committee, and for that, we commend its suburban members - Vice Chairperson Carol Sente of Vernon Hills, Michael Tryon of Crystal Lake, Mark Batinick of Plainfield, Laura Fine of Glenview, Robyn Gabel of Evanston, Anna Moeller of Elgin and Tom Morrison of Inverness.

So far, however, the measure is being held up in the House because of vested interest opposition centered on the cost of the testing.

Here's the thing: The testing is not that expensive.

Remediation can be if testing finds a problem, but not the testing itself.

And if a problem has been discovered, doesn't it need to be addressed, expensive or not?

We need a state law that requires schools to test water supplies for lead. Until then, local school boards need to require it.

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