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Eight Things You Need to Know About Lead Exposure in Water

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Eight Things You Need to Know About Lead Exposure in Water

How schools can protect their students and communicate with their parents.

By Donna Mazyck

Recent news reports about lead in water supplies in many U.S. cities raise serious concerns, especially about the wellbeing of young children. Lead exposure causes significantly greater harm to children than adults. Exposure can lead to developmental delays and health problems. Here are eight things school officials can do to help keep their students safe and communicate the dangers of lead poisoning to parents.

  1. Know the sources of lead in the environment. Exposure to lead can come from paint or gasoline. Other major sources include water, dust, and dirt. Lead in homes or schools can come from lead paint in buildings that were built before 1978 or in water. 
  2. Test buildings for lead. Check with the health department about testing paint dust and paint chips from school. Let your community know that they should test for lead in homes built before 1978 and tell them to contact the health department if they have questions about finding a licensed lead inspector.
  3. Clean up lead dust that may come from old paint as it cracks and peels. Cleaning tips include using wet paper towels; cleaning around windows, play areas, and floors; using duct tape to cover peeling paint; washing hands and toys with soap and water; and washing hands before eating and sleeping.
  4. Test water. Have the water in your school tested and let the community know the results. Also, encourage children’s families to have their home water tested. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 15 parts per billion as the level at which corrective action must be taken. Lead may be found in drinking water in some faucets and not others in a building.

If lead is found, precautions for using the water should be followed. Water shouldn’t be drunk or used from a faucet that has been off for more than six hours, and that includes use in cooking. In order to make sure the water is safe, the cold tap must be run for at least five minutes. Note that cold tap water only is safe to use, because hot or warm running water can have higher levels of lead. Pregnant women and children under six years old should avoid water from lead-tainted faucets entirely, even when these precautions are taken. They should drink only bottled water. Boiling water does not reduce its lead content, but NSF-certified water filters and replacements are effective at doing so.

In addition, encourage child-care centers to test their drinking water for lead.

  1. 5. If children are at risk, encourage parents to have them tested. If a blood test detects lead exposure, health care providers will develop a comprehensive plan for treatment.
  2. Encourage families to eat foods that reduce lead in the body. These include foods high in calcium, such as milk, leafy green vegetables, and fortified orange juice; foods containing iron, such as red meat, fish, chicken, dried fruit, and beans; and foods high in vitamin C, such as fruits and peppers.
  3. Track affected students’ educational progress. Follow the progress of students with lead exposure, and be sure to update parents. A developmental assessment can determine the amount of support children may need to ensure academic success.
  4. Work for prevention. Preventing lead exposure in children is the best solution.Work for prevention by advocating for the following:
  • Environments safe from lead
  • Tracking and identifying lead sources
  • Control or safe removal of lead

School nurses work with educators, families, and health care providers to keep students health, safe and ready to learn. For additional information on lead prevention and exposure in children, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EPA.

Donna Mazyck is the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses and a former school nurse.

Photo: © Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/zReportage.com via ZUMA Wire

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