Some MNPS Students Still Drinking Lead-Contaminated Water

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A NewsChannel 5 investigation discovers information potentially affecting the health of school children across Nashville -- information that has not been shared with parents.

It reveals children are still drinking lead-contaminated water when they go to school -- despite the district's assurances that there's nothing to worry about.

This past summer, Metro Schools tested every water fountain in the district after questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

As the school year started, officials only shared the worst results with the public.

But we obtained the raw data, which shows there's a lot more to the story.

Haywood Elementary in South Nashville is a neighborhood school that serves one of Nashville's immigrant communities.

Here, young children work up a healthy thirst on the playground, quenching that thirst in lead-contaminated water.

That's according to the results obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates of lead tests conducted by the school system over the summer.

"It bothers me now to know because my baby is there and she drinks water every day from the water fountain," said parent Daniel Ramos.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that school water contain no more than 1 part per billion of lead.

But at Haywood Elementary, the tests revealed nine fountains were putting out water with more than 15 parts per billion.

The highest: 35.2 ppb.

The district says it disconnected those fixtures.

In addition, the tests found 17 other fountains putting out between 5.08 and 14.4 parts per billion of the toxic metal.

In those cases, the school district decided to let the children keep drinking the water.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Ramos, "So they have not told you that there is lead in the water here?"

"Nope," he answered.

"Nothing?"

"Nothing. Nope."

We also asked Susan Loyola who was there to pick up her two younger sisters.

"Has your family been told anything about lead in the water here?"

"No," she insisted, "we have not."

Families say they've been left in the dark.

"We come to open houses. They've never mentioned this," said parent Jihan Haji.

We showed the data to Nashville pediatrician Dr. William Davidson.

Dr. Davidson said, "I would want them to find some other source of water."

He said there is no safe level of lead for children -- and lead accumulates over time in their young bodies, potentially causing learning and behavioral problems.

"And it's that accumulation that then causes problems because as the lead levels go up in the tissues and the blood you're going to have potentially more and more effects."

And it's not just Haywood Elementary.

At the McMurray Middle annex -- the old Tusculum Elementary in South Nashville -- students are still drinking out of 11 fountains with lead levels between 5.04 and 12.1 parts per billion.

And inside East Nashville's historic Hattie Cotton Elementary, 13 fountains had between 5.46 and 10.8 parts per billion of lead.

Daniel Ramos said, "It's bad for the kids -- not only the kids, the teachers that drink water from there too."

A Metro Schools spokesperson insisted the district is following the same standards as Metro Water.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained three years of test data from the water system, and it shows little or no lead ever detected in the water supply. (View results here.)

In other words, the problem appears to be inside the school buildings themselves.

"That tells me that you've got a problem with the pipes, with the infrastructure of that school, that needs to be addressed," said state Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.

We shared the results with Powell, who has pushed legislation to make sure children aren't being exposed to lead in their school water.

"There is nothing more important than the safety of our children and the health of our students in Nashville and the state of Tennessee," Powell said.

"So if it's money that's going to be required to fix the issue, we need to spend the money to fix the issue."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked parent Jihan Haji, "Does it bother you that they never told you?"

"It does, yeah," she answered. "I'm concerned now. It does bother me because, you know, our kids are in their hands."

And, if children in Nashville are being exposed to unsafe amounts of lead in their school water, Powell said it's highly likely it's happening across Tennessee.

"Essentially this is just what could potentially be the tip of the iceberg and we need to look at this statewide and see if there's lead in other school systems."

Metro's Public Health Department has urged the school system to get the lead levels as low as possible.

But the Metro Schools spokesperson said the district plans to stick with the standards that it has.

Special Section:
NC5 Investigates: Lead in School Water

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