Health experts find elevated lead levels in school drinking water

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Health experts are warning Florida children are likely being exposed to heightened levels of lead in their school drinking water.

The toxic substance can cause IQ loss and even aggressive behavior.

“We will never know with 100 percent certainty whether exposure to lead played a significant roll in the dozens of shootings that have occurred over the years,” said Dr. Ron Saff with the Allergy & Asthma Diagnostic Treatment Center in Tallahassee.

Tests conducted in 16 schools in the state’s capital city found all of them had elevated levels of lead in their water fountains.

Even a water fountain tested in the state’s Capitol building was found to have lead levels 11 times higher than what is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

It’s believed that similar lead levels exist in water throughout the state.

“The lead is not coming from the aquifer, that water is very clean, but it comes in through the pipes, through the plumbing,” said Vincent Salters, professor and director of geochemistry at Florida State University. "That's where it is and that is the same anywhere.”

Structures built before 1986 are at the highest risk because lead levels in pipes weren’t regulated until then. However, pipes built after 1986 can contain up to 8 percent lead.

“There's no safe exposure to lead,” said Saff.

Health experts are calling on the Legislature to pass legislation that would require schools to filter their water fountains to reduce exposure.

“We're in exactly the same situation as Flint, Michigan, because we are taking chances with our children,” said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida. "We're taking big chances.”

Filtering school fountains throughout the state would cost an estimated $24 million.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking for Federal funds to go towards lead testing in public schools.

Health experts say to ensure water is lead free, installing a simple filter, such as a Brita, is an effective way to remove the toxin.

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