MEMPHIS, Tennessee — It’s been almost a year since MSCS reported high levels of lead in water at 12 schools. Environmental activists and experts held a public forum on the topic Wednesday night at the Whitehaven Public Library, hosted by the nonprofit Black Millennials for Flint.
Group CEO LaTrecia Adams said the organization has lobbied to pass state legislation requiring schools to conduct lead tests every two years.
RELATED: 12 SCS schools tested positive for high levels of lead in water
She said it was disappointing that the schools polluted their drinking water, but new data said the district had improved since the last time it tested the water in 2019, with 24 schools reporting high lead levels. Turns out I have a level. She said I should do the test more often.
“It’s a best practice to have intermittent testing throughout the school year,” says Adams. “We know the solution. We need to bring in community stakeholders, elected officials and others to make sure our schools are safe.”
Panelists discussed findings at MSCS and the dangers of lead poisoning in general, saying it goes far beyond just the school system.
“Memphis has a terrible legacy of lead poisoning that refuses to be addressed,” said panelist and MSCS board member Frank Johnson.
A former schoolteacher and advocate for environmental justice, Johnson was appointed to the MSCS Board last week.
He said his childhood classmates, family members, and even his students saw the consequences of lead poisoning.
“When I was teaching at Larose Elementary School in South Memphis, I started noticing the same type of behavioral disorder that I saw with Norris when he was in grade school,” he said.
According to Johnson, many Memphis citizens are exposed to lead from the paint on old homes, chemical waste from the closed Memphis Defense Depot, and, as is the case with MSCS, old pipes.
“When you talk about the behavior you see in schools and on the street, it’s a direct result because lead attacks the parts of the brain that control behavior,” he said.
He is currently on the school board and would like to create a policy to prevent lead exposure at MSCS.
“It hasn’t gotten better over time, so that’s an issue I’m going to fight,” Johnson said.
Adams says part of the solution to combating lead poisoning is redefining what “high lead levels” mean.
Current state law requires schools to retest if lead is found in amounts of 15 ppb or more. Schools should only take immediate action if found in amounts of 20 ppb or higher.
“15ppb is still high. Literally any level of lead is unsafe,” Adams said. “We want it to be much lower, up to a point. Even if our water contains a billionth, we find that to be too high.”
FOX13 has reached out to MSCS to find out what steps are being taken to protect students at the 12 schools from contaminated water and whether the schools are being re-inspected. The district reports that filters are installed and tested according to state law.
©2022 Imagicomm Memphis, Inc.