The health risk lead in drinking water poses to children returning to school

GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — As tens of thousands of students across the Mid-South head back to class, parents in Germantown have more than the typical back-to-class jitters.

That’s because high levels of lead were found in the water in at least five schools in the district.

“In 2022, I’m surprised that there is lead, and it wasn’t found years ago,” Daniel Wood, a father of two children at Riverdale School, said. “The school is, you know, older, or most of it anyway, but I would like it to be resolved if possible.”

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Parents at five of seven schools in the district received an email from the deputy superintendent Friday evening.

It told parents the district hired a company to test the water at the schools.

Three sinks at Riverdale School, 22 sinks at Houston High School, and several other sinks at Farmington Elementary School, Dogwood Elementary School, and Houston Middle School were found to have unacceptable levels of lead in the water.

The district said no water fountains were affected.

“We’re concerned any time a child is exposed to lead. There’s no known safe exposure levels for a child,” Dr. Jason Yuan, a pediatrician at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, said.

Dr. Yuan said even low levels of lead exposure can lead to developmental and behavioral issues in children.

“At higher levels, we see things like gastrointestinal issues, damage to kidneys and other organ systems, and more neurological problems as well,” he said.

The district said because the affected areas are non-traditional water drinking sources, they have decided not to take them out of service.

Dr. Yuan said it’s ok for water with lead in it to touch your skin. Drinking it is the real danger.

“I think we know children may drink from any type of source. So, I think we want to limit that exposure,” he said.

The district said they have placed signs on the affected sinks to let students and staff know the water in them is not for drinking.

Dr. Yuan said schools are particularly vulnerable to lead contamination in the water because of old pipes and water often left sitting in the system for long periods of time.

“Tennessee has been shown to have higher limits of lead in school drinking water and other states. So, even schools that don’t get flagged as high levels may actually have higher levels than we would ideally like,” he said.

Dr. Yuan said if you are concerned your child has been exposed to lead, you should reach out to your pediatrician, and they can test your child’s blood levels.