With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Friday, April 29, 2016

The lead/water crisis and Chicago's school children

CEO Claypool says testing not based on any "indication" of lead. Then why no transparency?
Exposure to even small amounts of lead as a child causes subtle brain damage that can trigger learning disabilities and violent behavior later in life. -- Chicago Tribune
And what about exposure to large amounts of lead, consumed daily in the tap water of old Public Schools over a period of years? This is the prospect we are facing and the question parents are asking as we enter the post-Flint era.

According to the city, about 80% of city buildings are still connected to water mains by lead pipes, which were banned in 1986.

CPS claims that while the district has not tested water fountains for lead contamination. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the system will begin checking water in a "small number of schools" this year. But it won't be the first time. Tests have been done before but the results have been kept from the public.

Schools CEO Forrest Claypool says it's no big deal. He says, “this is not because of any indication. It’s out of an abundance of caution.” Of course, Claypool sends his kids to ritzy private school, Francis Parker, where you can bet the drinking water has been fully tested.

Principals at several of those schools told the Chicago Sun-Times they learned of the testing from the press, and weren’t sure what to tell parents. I can't really blame them for being cautious, given what's happened to outspoken Blaine principal Troy LaRaviere.
Several principals, who did not have district permission to speak, said they had not been notified by CPS of the testing. Though the district typically sends letters home about such developments, the principals said they had been given no guidance on how to respond to parent questions this time.
Rahm's announcement Wednesday came more than a month after the Tribune requested the results of any water quality tests conducted by or for CPS since 2012. The school district failed to respond to FOIA requests, but in an email sent an hour before Emanuel's office released its statement a district spokesman said CPS "had no records to provide".

According to the Tribune,
The water crisis in Flint, Mich., has put new pressure on cities and school districts to address the safety of drinking water. Like Flint, Chicago and many older cities required the use of lead plumbing during the last century, and few have been required to replace those pipes with safer materials. CPS owns or operates more than 600 school buildings, some of which were built in the 1800s.
I'm told that lead and asbestos testing has gone on in the schools since 2003 but the results were never made public.

80% of city's buildings still connected to banned lead water pipes.
Similar lead scandals have emerged, especially in other poor, predominantly black and Latino school districts across the country. In Detroit, they've found elevated levels of lead and copper in nearly a third of its elementary schools, contamination that one expert says could be found nationwide, wherever school authorities spend the time and money to look.

In D.C. they've found 12 schools so far with lead levels that violate federal standards.

Boston Public Schools officials shut down fountains in four schools after a test revealed elevated levels of lead in the drinking water.

Obvious questions. Why are they testing such a small number of schools? Why has it taken so long?And why the lack of transparency? The answers: While testing is relatively cheap (we just had the tap water in our house tested for $35) the cost of necessary infrastructure repair and lead abatement, not just in the schools, but in many neighborhoods of the city (and nation) could require a national campaign with costs running into the trillions. Possibly parallel to what we're spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not to mention the costs of possible class-action lawsuits, criminal trials and political fallout (would this be happening in a wealthy, white school district?) resulting from cover-ups of the Flint variety.

Is Chicago and the nation willing to make such a commitment in these times of austerity and anti-tax, anti-government hysteria? Even with the health and well-being of our children hanging in the balance?

My bet is that Chicago's lead crisis will be used as an excuse to further erode public space, close or privatize more schools.

Schools being tested include:

  • Burr, 1621 W. Wabansia
  • Canty, 3740 N. Panama
  • Coonley, 4046 N. Leavitt
  • Crown, 2128 S. St. Louis
  • De Diego, 1313 N. Claremont
  • Dett, 2131 W. Monroe
  • Ericson, 3600 W. 5th
  • Evers, 9811 S. Lowe
  • Hefferan, 4409 W. Wilcox
  • Mahalia Jackson, 917 W. 88th
  • Jamieson, 5650 N. Mozart
  • Jungman, 1746 S. Miller
  • Kellman, 3030 W. Arthrington
  • Kozminski, 936 E. 54th
  • Lenart, 8101 S. LaSalle
  • Mays, 6656 S. Normal
  • Neil, 8555 S. Michigan
  • Nicholson, 6006 S. Peoria
  • Parker, 6800 S. Stewart
  • Pritzker, 2009 W. Schiller St.
  • Saucedo/Telpochcalli, 2832 W. 24th
  • South Shore ES, 1415 E. 70th
  • Stagg, 7424 S. Morgan
  • Sumner, 4320 W. 5th
  • Tanner, 7350 S. Evans
  • Harold Washington ES, 9130 S. University
  • Webster, 4055 W. Arthrington
  • Westcott, 409 W. 80th

1 comment:

  1. I love that phrase about principals who did not have district permission to speak. Really? Do we live in another country? Since when do principals or anyone else need permission to speak in the U. S.? CPS seems to think that if you are an employee, you must tow the CPS line or you must be fired, no matter how good you are at your job. CPS/KGB. All the same.


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