1 in 4 California child care facilities has high levels of lead in water: Look up your preschool in this database

by ZeuCer

Lead is pervasive in the drinking water of child care centers across California, with almost 1 in 4 child care facilities testing above legally allowed levels in the state, per new data released by the California Department of Social Services.

The results follow the first time in state history that child care facilities were required to test for lead in their drinking water, revealing the extent to which infants, toddlers and preschool children across the state are exposed to the damaging neurotoxin.

Even low exposure levels of lead in children have been linked to a multitude of devastating health effects, including damage in the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing and impaired formation and function of blood cells, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead exposure is particularly damaging for younger children whose brains are still developing and for whom such damage is irreversible, said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy nonprofit.

“Those youngest children are also going to be the most vulnerable to lead exposure, especially because most of their caloric intake for the day is going to be formula mixed with tap water,” Stoiber said.

Almost 1,700 child care facilities had tap water that tested above 5 parts per billion of lead, the state’s permissible level, though the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that there is no known safe level of lead in drinking water for children.

The highest test result came from La Petite Academy Incorporated in San Diego, which measured 11,300 ppb at one of its faucets — 2,260 times the state’s acceptable level and close to the highest concentrations found in Flint, Mich., where a lead contamination crisis developed in 2014 when the city’s water supply was switched from Detroit water to the Flint River. That waterway received raw sewage from the city’s waste disposal plant, along with urban and rural runoff, leaching toxics from landfills and waste disposed by local industries.

Of the 6,866 child care centers in California that were tested, eight centers exceeded the 5 ppb limit by 200 times, 76 centers exceeded the limit by 20 times and 183 centers exceeded the limit by 10 times, according to an analysis of the state’s data from the Environmental Working Group.

The results are “alarming” but “not surprising” given the known high levels of lead in the drinking water of K-12 schools across the state, said Jenn Engstrom, California Public Interest Research Group state director. The nonprofit gave California a C grade this year for its “middling policies” to stop lead contamination in schools’ drinking water.

“We’re really falling behind as a state when it comes to actually addressing this problem,” Engstrom said.

Abc Preschool in San Francisco had the fourth-highest recorded level of lead, with one of its faucets measuring 3,000 ppb of lead. When reached by The Chronicle, director Kumiko Inui said the faucet in question had not been used since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also in the top 10 was a faucet at the St. Catherine of Siena Preschool in Martinez, which had the fifth-highest recorded level of lead at 2,000 ppb of lead. Principal Jessica Griswold told The Chronicle that the faucet belonged to a sink in the director’s office that is inaccessible to children and had not been in use for years. Since receiving the test results, the school has ceased using the faucet, Griswold said.

Kidango Linda Vista in San Jose, which had the 12th highest measurement of lead at 600 ppb, “immediately discontinued” using faucets at Kidango Centers that exceeded 5 ppb, according to assistant director of communications Mario Fierro-Hernandez. All Kidango classrooms have since installed lead-free fixtures and supply lines, Fierro-Hernandez wrote to The Chronicle.

Other Bay Area schools with high amounts of lead discovered in their faucets, including Bunker Hill Parents Participation Nursery School in San Mateo, KinderCare San Francisco and First Presbyterian Church Preschool in Burlingame, did not respond to requests for comment.

The new test results from child care facilities were spurred by the passage of Assembly Bill 2370 in 2018, authored by Assembly Member Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, and sponsored by the Environmental Working Group. The bill requires child care centers built before 2010 to have their drinking water tested for lead contamination levels no later than January 2023. The centers will need to retest their water every five years.

Centers must cease using fountains and faucets that exceed the state’s allowed level of lead and obtain a potable source of water for children and staff at that location, per AB2370.

Child care centers are also required to notify parents or guardians of children enrolled at the center of the test results, according to Department of Social Services spokesperson Theresa Mier.

Going forward, state policies should help school and child care centers proactively install filtered water stations to capture lead coming from plumbing or pipes, as even 5 ppb can be damaging, Engstrom said. Lead levels in water can also be variable, which means proper sampling can miss possible contamination.

“What we’re really encouraging these child care centers and schools to do is go above and beyond that requirement to get down to zero,” Engstrom said.

Holden and the Environmental Working Group are sponsoring another bill to tighten testing requirements at public and private K-12 schools. Currently, schools don’t have to test faucets at their location and must take action only if lead levels measure above 15 ppb.

Assembly Bill 249, which is still in committee, would lower the limit to 5 ppb and require schools to test their faucets.

Reach Claire Hao: claire.hao@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @clairehao_

source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/climate/article/lead-water-california-preschools-18106998.php

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