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Report: 78 percent of surveyed suburban Cook schools tested positive for lead

Wednesday, Sep 26, 2018

* PIRG doing the state’s job for it…

Illinois PIRG Education Fund today released first-of-its-kind analysis of new data obtained from the Illinois Department of Public Health finding that 78% of suburban Cook County schools tested positive for lead in at least one water fixture. The data, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act Request, includes testing results from schools across the state that tested school water fixtures using a 2 parts per billion (ppb) standard.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund also offered a new toolkit to help parents, teachers, and administrators get the lead out of schools’ drinking water and encouraged parents and teachers to put the toolkit on their “back to school” reading list.

“Our kids deserve safe drinking water at school,” said Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “We want to give parents, teachers, and school administrators the tools they need to get the lead out.”

The data, yet to be aggregated by IDPH, came in the form of hundreds of documents, using different file types and formats for presenting data. In order to complete initial analysis in a timely manner, Illinois PIRG Education Fund focused on test results for suburban Cook County Schools. Of the 155 suburban Cook County schools identified in the data set, 121, or 78%, tested above the 2 ppb threshold for at least one water fixture.

There is no safe level of lead. Lead in drinking water can result in a number of health risks such as harm to brain development and the nervous system. Exposure to lead can inhibit growth and development, damage the nervous and brain system, and can result in hearing, speech, learning, and behavioral problems.

Medical researchers estimate that more than 24 million children in America today risk losing IQ points due to low levels of lead. ADHD, anxiety and depression are also linked to exposure of even very low levels of lead.

Some schools had lead results of 50 ppb or higher. For example River Grove SD 85-5 had fixtures testing as high as 610 ppb. Stuart R Paddock School in Palatine had fixtures testing as high as 128 ppb. Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Hoffman Estates had fixtures testing as high as 578 ppb.

Many schools also had a significant number of their fixtures test positive for lead. For example, 59 of the 155 schools had 25% or more of their fixtures test above the 2 ppb threshold.

A state law passed in January of 2017 requires testing for lead in Illinois schools built prior to 1987 within the 2017 year. Schools built between 1987 and 2000 are required to have tested by the end of 2018. IDPH requires schools take remediation action for fixtures testing positive for lead.

* From the study

Of the 155 schools tested at the 2 ppb threshold, for the first draw:

    13 schools had at least 50% of their water fixtures test above threshold.

    59 schools had at least 25% of their water fixtures test above threshold.

    97 schools had at least 10% of their water fixtures test above threshold.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

19 Comments
  1. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:11 am:

    Good thing Rauner wants to starve our schools. Oh wait…


  2. - njt16 - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:14 am:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20021113155834/http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead/excerptfrom58.htm

    ” In addition to the action level of 20 ppb recommended by EPA, lead at concentrations of 40 ppb or higher poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of children and pregnant women. This calculation uses a risk assessment model that is is based on exposure to young, school-aged children.”


  3. - TheInvisibleMan - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:16 am:

    Check the Plainfield D202 school district in Will County.

    Half of their schools failed lead testing, and at the time they deliberately withheld that information from the IL dept of public health.

    Not reporting results was more important to them than fixing the problem.


  4. - OneMan - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:16 am:

    I understand this group may not be well funded and providing an action guide is helpful. Making either the raw data or the compiled data available so people can look into specific schools would have been useful


  5. - A Jack - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:17 am:

    I would be curious as to the level of follow-up that IDPH is doing regarding remediation efforts.


  6. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:27 am:

    Not surprising at all.
    I attended grade school in a building built in 1922. I attended high school in a building built in 1935. The elementary building was torn down a few years ago. The high school building is a National Landmark and preserved.

    I grew up in a house built in 1937.

    Lead has always been a part of my diet. I grew up around factories which were saturated with chemicals. The Cal-Sag is toxic sludge once you get down below 3 feet.The steel mills I grew up around lit up the night. Some of the dads on my block grew breasts from the chemicals they were exposed to during work. My chain-smoking grandpa grew up in Pullman and smelled like paint for 40 years.

    It’s astounding how polluted my world was growing up in South Chicagoland. It’s even more amazing how clean it is today.

    It’s OK. No need to panic over this.


  7. - Superintendent - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:28 am:

    The report indicates the initial testing and results submitted to IDPH. It does not show that for two of the schools cited, the water was immediately shut off and remediation efforts enacted. Only after remediation and another round of testing showed safe levels was the water source again used by students and staff.

    PIRG is generated hype without proper follow through. It’s reporting leads the reader to believe that the water source is still endangering those in the building! Not at all accurate.


  8. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:38 am:

    –It’s astounding how polluted my world was growing up in South Chicagoland. It’s even more amazing how clean it is today.–

    That required some work and expense, I imagine.


  9. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:43 am:

    Glad to see someone doing IEPAs job.


  10. - Perrid - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 11:46 am:

    @ntj16, the “action level of 20 ppb” from your quote is outdated, it is currently 15 ppb. I get that wasn’t the exact point you were making but wanted to put that out there. Link:

    https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm


  11. - OneMan - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 12:13 pm:

    VM, yeah the south suburbs were an interesting toxic mix, between the brick factory in Dolton that actually caused the sky to change color a bit to our playground being next to the now Bishop Ford I have always kind of wondered how much crap is in my system.

    Just the cleanup of little cal and the landfill just north of the steel bridge is good.


  12. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 12:16 pm:

    Look- this is truly appalling
    And it came out because of FOIA
    IEPA did a veterans home job
    Management stifled it.
    But what do expect when
    Every state agency
    has been gutted
    Of mostly unionized employees
    So now you have too many officers
    And not enough sailors
    To fight the ship
    Incompetent officers at that.
    Chiefs are retiring at alarming rates
    My seniority has moved up so fast
    I get ABT at Thanksgiving
    Unheard of 10 years ago.
    Rauners campaign of
    Bannonism - destroying the administrative state
    Has had consequences
    Like hiding lead results
    At our precious children’s schools
    And V-man
    It is a big deal
    A huge deal
    Seriously, lay off the curmudgeon sauce


  13. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 12:21 pm:

    Lead - Lead is in so many of our buildings, especially older ones in Chicago. Dangerous lead is from peeling paint and its use basically stopped in 1978. But encapsulated old lead paint really isn’t a problem. Most old water pipes are not lead. But water service pipes are. The amount of lead coming into our drinking water is minimal if the pipe is not disturbed. (Flint Michigan is an example).
    The schools with high lead testings need to be addressed immediately.


  14. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 12:34 pm:

    Agree with OneMan. Would be nice to be able to see the data, not just a toolkit. Parents would be able to better target their school than just do blanket emails ( for instance) requesting info.


  15. - Red fish blue fish - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 2:06 pm:

    DI agree with anon221 and OneMan–disappointing to see that the study did not disclose the data gathered.


  16. - Benniefly2 - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 2:06 pm:

    Interesting, but there is not enough actual information to figure out if there is a real problem or not at most of these places. I uderstand that that they are reporting results above 2 ppb, but 2ppb is not the federal standard. The federal standard is 15 ppb. How many of the schools reported as above 2 were still below 15ppb. More importantly, are these hot tests coming from easily replaceable fixtures (old water fountain, etc) or are the flush samples coming back over 15 ppb. If 5 minute flush samples are testing over the action level, then you potentially have a problem with lead being in the water coming in from the main, and that is a whole other, much larger problem.


  17. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 26, 18 @ 2:28 pm:

    Who’s afraid of a little lead in their Children’s drinking water?…it only causes a little brain damage.


  18. - Perrid - Thursday, Sep 27, 18 @ 8:17 am:

    @Benniefly2, there is no safe level of lead, especially with children. Sure, it would be nice to have all the exact numbers, but the goal should be 0.


  19. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Sep 27, 18 @ 9:37 am:

    Lead consumed as a child has been proven to lead to brain damage, one result is poor impulse control. How many murders in Cook County are caused from poor impulse control?
    It seems that the crowd that is constantly wringing their hands about children growing up in fatherless families should get behind making the children’s environment lead free. We can’t make people who dislike each other live together. We can’t force divorced women to get abortions. We can change a few pipes in a school, for heaven’s sake.


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