Lead Blindness Leads to Denial and Inaction

Posted by Laura Barrett on July 28, 2016

How far does the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) denial about leaded drinking water go?  I was having tea with a friend this week.  She told me that she had been an intern at EPA in 2012.  She started to drink from the drinking fountain in the hallway of EPA's DC office, her colleagues started shouting at her - "Stop, don't drink that water!".  I know this seems incredible - but doesn't it make sense in a really weird way?  EPA had a drinking fountain in their own DC office that had lead pipes that they hadn't cleaned up in 2012!!!  Now it sort of makes sense that they delayed so long on Flint, MI's water in 2015-16.  If you can't even clean up your own house, how can you clean up anyone else's?

Earlier this year, lead-tainted water was found in water fountains in a congressional office building, the Cannon building, right next to the Capitol.   Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) said, "It's long past time that Congress get serious about this health threat.  Helping Flint families ought to be as much of a priority as ensuring safe water on Capitol Hill."

The EPA's dysfunction about the need to take quick action when lead, PFOAs or other chemicals are discovered amounts to a state of denial.  We have a drinking water crisis in our country.  The sooner EPA admits the severity of the problem, the sooner they can start to find an adequate solution. Entire drinking water systems are unable to deliver clean, safe drinking water at a decent cost in Flint, MI, Toledo, OH, Merrimack, NH, Hoosick, NY and many other cities.  When you are going on vacation these days, you had better do a google search to find out if your destination has safe water - in the USA, not the third world.

Then we have the crisis in school drinking fountains in Ithaca, NY, Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA and countless other school districts.  There are school janitors whose job description includes running water through drinking fountains with lead pipes for a certain number of minutes every morning to clear the polluted water.

What is stopping our presidential candidates from declaring that they will get the lead out of every school drinking fountain in America and that safe water will be a priority for the new administrator they appoint to EPA?  That commitment would do more to leave No Child Behind than any testing program.

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Laura Barrett is the executive director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

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