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Schools must know what’s in water

After community members in Flint, Michigan, were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water beginning in 2014, the issue hit the national stage – hard.

And for good reason: exposure to lead – especially for children – can have devastating and permanent health consequences.

Because of the risks posed by lead and the skyrocketing public concern over lead in drinking water, the New Mexico Department of Health and New Mexico Environment Department launched a voluntary program in 2018 to pay for the testing of drinking water used by the state’s most vulnerable, and most valuable, population. As Virginia Tech professor and lead expert Marc Edwards said in a June 23 story in the Albuquerque Journal, there is no federal law that requires sampling for lead in school water. The absence of a law requiring testing is precisely why New Mexico’s state agencies stepped up to the plate.

To date, our Lead Assistance Project has provided free testing, along with guidance on how to sample and interpret results, to six school districts and eight individual schools and child care centers.

This year, we were thrilled when the state’s largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, volunteered to have water tested at some of its facilities. As a result of its participation, the district is now successfully working to pinpoint lead sources and minimize students’ exposure. The guidance provided by our agencies also armed the district with knowledge that will allow it to continue to protect the health of its students.

We encourage districts and day care centers around the state to participate in this free program. We understand that testing raises fears, but it’s only through testing that we can understand if a risk is present. We are currently registering schools for our next round of testing that starts August 1. We invite schools to sign up soon so we can work with interested parties ahead of the sampling period. Our staff looks forward to continuing the Lead Assistance Project in New Mexico’s schools and guiding participants down the road toward cleaner drinking water for students.

The only way to address lead in a school is to find out if it’s there in the first place.

We teach our kids science in school and encourage them to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. We owe it to them to lead by example by employing science to solve problems, understand risk and protect their health. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.