As a pediatrician, every day I talk with the parents of young children about the risks of lead poisoning. I explain to them lead is a potent neurotoxin that causes IQ loss and developmental damage even at very low levels and as an adult, it can cause reproductive harm, high blood pressure and kidney damage. I let them know there is no safe level of lead exposure and even limited exposure can lead to lasting damage. In the past, I asked the parents of babies and toddlers to check their homes for signs of old, flaking lead paint.
But now I also ask the parents of school-age children about lead in their children’s schools. Many of Vermont’s schools are old buildings with lead pipes supplying water for drinking and cooking. This past year, the Vermont Department of Health tested the water at 16 schools in Vermont and found all 16 had at least one tap for drinking or cooking, with elevated levels of lead. Five of these 16 schools had lead levels 15 times above the Vermont Health Advisory limit of 1 part per billion. As a parent, it pains me to think the water my kindergartner drinks after recess and my fourth grader drinks before reading group, may be putting their health at risk.
There is currently no law in place to mandate schools test for lead in their drinking water. This month, the Vermont House is considering S.40 (the lead bill). To address this problem adequately, it is fundamental this bill contain a health-based action level of 1 part per billion. The 1 part per billion action level is technically achievable and cost-effective.
Passing a bill with a higher action level continues to put our children at risk and would unfairly disadvantage children who attend schools and child care facilities with fewer financial and advocacy resources.
There is no tolerable level of damage to the developing brains of our children. The House needs to vote S.40 out without delay to show our youngest residents and their parents that Vermont is fully invested in their health and their future.
Denise B. Aronzon lives in South Burlington.