Lead testing programs launch in Georgia as CDC lowers lead level guidelines for kids

RTI International is distributing lead testing kits to Georgia schools. Lead that is found in water typically comes from distribution piping and building plumbing.

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A program to test water for lead at public schools in Georgia is underway. The test kits are free, and environmental advocates are encouraging schools to sign up. All licensed childcare centers in Georgia will be eligible for the program soon, too.

Lead is dangerous to children — even small amounts can affect their brains and nervous systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s no safe blood lead level for children.

The Georgia Department of Education program, funded by a federal grant, is meant to check sources of drinking and cooking water at schools in the state.

Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, Director of Environmental Health and Water Quality with the research group RTI International, which is distributing the test kits to Georgia schools, said lead typically doesn’t come from the water source itself.

“It can accumulate on the way to your tap from the distribution piping and building plumbing,” she said at an outreach meeting last week. “That’s why it’s so important to test at the tap, even if and when it’s tested at the water system.”

Redmon’s organization is sending out lead testing kits to any Georgia public school that requests them. The group will also provide training for people at the schools to collect the samples themselves then send them back to RTI for testing. The results will be posted publicly online.

The project doesn’t include funding for addressing lead contamination if any is found. But Redmon said she doesn’t want that to deter schools from signing up.

“In most cases, low cost and no-cost solutions have been effective,” she said. “We’re not solving the infrastructure crisis, but we’re solving the issue of exposure to lead in drinking water.”

Redmon said inexpensive fixes include flushing out faucets, replacing problematic water fountains and using filters that are certified to remove lead.

In 2016, Atlanta Public Schools conducted its own testing. APS found that 97% of the water sources it tested had passed. According to a spokesman, the sources that didn’t pass were taken offline and their problems were addressed.

“Mitigation efforts included extensive flushing of water lines leading to those sources as well as replacement of some of those sources,” said APS spokesman Seth Coleman. “APS is currently in the process of completing another district-wide testing initiative, in accordance with the district’s safety protocol of testing water every five years.”

Testing Georgia soil for lead

Another program, which is continuing through Nov. 15, offers free soil testing for all Georgians. Residents can send in one or two samples of dirt to check for lead in their yards.

That initiative, from health agencies and environmental organizations, is coordinated by the same Emory University researcher who found dangerously high levels of lead in the Atlanta neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue a few years ago.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed adding those neighborhoods to its Superfund National Priorities List, which would make more funding and resources available for cleanup.

Officials are encouraging residents and property owners in Vine City and English Avenue to sign up for testing from the EPA.

Georgia behind as CDC introduces new guidelines

While levels of lead have generally gone down since lead paint and leaded gasoline were banned, it can still be found in old homes, dirt, water pipes, traditional remedies, and imported toys, jewelry and candies.

The CDC recently lowered the blood lead level in children that suggests more follow-up is needed, such as continued health monitoring and investigating sources of lead in the child’s home. But those federal guidelines don’t automatically apply to states.

In Georgia, the level was already lagging behind the CDC’s previous, higher level.

“Georgia childhood lead exposure control has not kept pace with current science,” Christy Kuriatnyk, an epidemiologist and Director of the Healthy Homes Program at the Georgia Department of Public Health, told a state study committee earlier this year.

At that meeting, Representative Katie Dempsey, a Republican from Rome and head of the committee, said the issue of lead exposure for Georgia’s children has been discussed for a long time.

“We need to make sure we are not missing a population of children that are exposed,” she said.