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‘When schools look, they find lead’

Marc Edwards

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech, calls the Albuquerque Public Schools lead-testing water results “moderately bad” but on par with other school data he has seen – which he says points to a bigger, national issue.

Edwards is credited with having helped expose dangerous lead levels in the water in Flint, Michigan, later deemed the “Flint water crisis.”

The Journal sent Edwards more than 800 water sample results from the Albuquerque schools.

“Relative to other school data I have seen, I would consider this a moderate risk. I considerate it moderately bad,” he said.

Yet, he called the results “normal” for schools.

“Unfortunately, this is just what’s happening and has been happening all around the country,” he said.

“It’s not good. When schools look, they find lead,” he said. “The good news is they can now start fixing these problems, but the bad news is, past harm cannot be undone.”

Edwards was one of the authors on a report that analyzed lead in U.S. school drinking water, which said lead is the “most prevalent toxicant in U.S. school drinking water.”

However, the report also pointed out that regulation for water testing is largely voluntary for schools.

According to the 2010 report, up to 92% of schools get their water from a public water system such as one owned by a city. For these schools, there is no federal law that requires sampling for lead in water.

For instance, APS gets its water from the public water system, according to Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority spokesman David Morris.

The report Edwards co-authored argues there needs to be better sampling protocols.

The article called the national landscape a “regulatory vacuum that leaves children unprotected from potential exposure to very high lead doses through consumption of school water.”

The EPA does recommend that school water sources used for drinking and cooking be sampled for lead but that is not required, the report shows.

While some districts and schools will opt into testing like APS did, it often comes down to funding, Edwards said.

“It creates angst and debate about how much money to spend fixing what taps in almost every school system that tests,” he said.

Testing in New Mexico was done via the Lead Assistance Project through the New Mexico Environment Department and Department of Health, which is funded through a federal grant.

In addition to APS, the state Environment Department said two of the state’s 89 school districts – Capitan Municipal Schools and Los Alamos Public Schools – also opted into the lead level testing this season.

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