Lead in Water, Part 3 (of an ongoing series)

According to testimony provided by our deputy mayor for education (DME) last week for the state board of education, the city’s department of energy and the environment (DOEE) is hosting a number of blood screenings for lead as a result of the ongoing crisis of confidence in the city’s testing and reporting of lead in school water sources:

Saturday, June 4, Time: TBD, DC Truck Touch (RFK Stadium, Lot 7)
Saturday, June 11, 10am- 4pm, Michigan Park (Bunker Hill Road NE)
Saturday, June 25, Time: 11am-3pm, Raymond Rec Center

Sadly, I could not find confirmation of, or more details for, any of this blood screening on either the DOEE website or on the DME’s website.

(If you CAN find webpage(s) with this information, please send the link(s) via the comments here, and I will post; thanks.)

In the wake of the state board meeting last week, my state board rep. Joe Weedon noted that the DME has said that the issue of lead in water appears to be a communications and confidence crisis rather than one of public health.

I agree that the communications part of this is indeed a crisis, if the following is any indication:

1. Although actual testing results are now again available for DCPS schools from a link on the DOEE website (in April, results were removed from the DOEE site and placed on the DGS website without any link provided at DOEE), it is still unclear what remediation, testing protocols, and follow-up are. And I have never been able to find any testing results anywhere for the charter schools that have been tested–nor any indication of what those protocols and follow-up are.

2. The other week, parents at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan–which had some affected water sources–asked DGS about a testing schedule for all schools. They were told that the agency has collected samples from all but one DCPS school already–without specifying which school had yet to be tested nor what the testing schedule was. The agency also noted that it is getting results back slowly, because there is a backlog.

3. The Logan parents also discovered that DGS is not testing every school water source habitually. Happily, the agency is now using barcoding (rather than random labels of water sources, like “2nd floor hallway by girls bathroom”) to identify water sources consistently. But to ensure DGS actually tests every water source, the Logan parents recommend that all results are checked for completeness and, if any water source is left out, that parents and school staff demand that DGS to come back to test it.

(The Logan parents also recommend to actually follow the testers around the school as they test, to ensure that they get every water source. This is a nuanced proposition, as the testing takes place when the schools are empty, in the early morning hours, before water is drawn down by regular usage. Good luck.)

4. The DME testified before the state board last week that lead results from 57 schools so far have come back, with 29 having elevated levels in non-drinking sources and 21 having elevated levels in drinking sources.

This reporting would be buoying (well, except for the fact that more than half the schools with reported results have elevated levels in actual potable sources).

But it is unclear what is actually happening.

For instance, on a link on the lead in water information page on the DOEE website, city administrator Rashad Young notes that “there have been isolated incidents involving elevated levels of lead in the water supply at 12 DC Public Schools.” Young then provided a link to the home page of DCPS.

How does “isolated incidents” factor in to the 50 schools (29 + 21) that the DME herself testified about having lead in water?

Or the 9 charter schools that the charter board said had elevated lead levels in their water?

That is: exactly how many DC public schools, both charter and DCPS, have elevated lead in their water?

(Oh, and while we’re at it: What public schools (DCPS and charter) have yet to be tested? What public schools (DCPS and charter) have yet to have their results reported? And what are the protocols for testing and remediation at DCPS and charter schools? Ditto all for the libraries and rec centers that are supposedly being tested as well.)

As far as I can see, the smallest number of public schools in DC with elevated levels of lead in their water, using just what the DME (29 + 21 = 50) and the charter board (9) reported, is 59 schools.

This is not exactly the “isolated incidents” in only 12 schools that the city administrator notes.

Finally: When I attempted to search the DME’s website for more information about the lead in water testing regime,  I received this message when I went to the link provided:

“Access Denied: You are not authorized to access this page.”

That just about sums up this communications crisis, which–given the results from just those 59 DCPS schools and the huge lack of information regarding testing at the majority of public schools, rec centers and libraries in DC–has potential to morph into a public health crisis.

Find out more this week by attending a forum on lead in school water (jointly held by DGS and DCPS) this Wednesday May 25th at 6 pm, at Miner Elementary (601 15th St. NE).

One thought on “Lead in Water, Part 3 (of an ongoing series)

  1. First, many thanks for following up on the performance oversight hearings in March and catching the vagueness of the DME and later the DCPS COO’s responses to CM Grosso’s questions. Must give Grosso credit too for asking. And especially must thank the parents whose schools have had problems that put their children at-risk of exposure to lead for their persistent monitoring, reporting and speaking out.

    Second, though I have not seen anything in recent days about the lead screening tests, I have had the experience of getting the “Access Denied” message. Twice on the DME site: June 29, 2015 and September 25, 2015 and once on the DGS site on September 24, 2015. I took pictures of them as I was disbelieving of my eyes!

    Third, There is definitely a communications problem here and it is on the government. To say there is a crisis of confidence is the old trick of trying to blame the victim, to deflect blame/responsibility from its actual source to somewhere/someone else. And that gets me to:

    Four: the communications crisis is the result of having the information about the safety/health of water in public education facilities scattered among at least three different parts of the government–DGS,DME,DOEE, apparently without any of them having a clear, definitive mandate to hold all the information about the public (and private!) education facilities in one place that is available to the public. Instead, a person is bounced from one entity to the next, and, as you have revealed, information that is on a site one day is gone the next. And that in turn, imo, is related to the governing structure and process of public education which was shown in the Evaluation of last June to be just a little too loose and flexible and not sufficiently integrated to perform as needed.
    See you at the Forum!


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