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Published: Wednesday, 10/7/2009

Make school water safe

STOPPING at the drinking fountain for quick refreshment shouldn't be a safety hazard for school students. But, according to an Associated Press investigation, the drinking water at thousands of schools nationwide may be compromised with unsafe levels of lead, pesticides, and other toxins.

And here's the kicker: Ohio is second only to California in reported school drinking water contaminants. The study found contamination was most apparent at schools with wells, representing 8 percent to 11 percent of U.S. schools.

Roughly one out of every five schools with its own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the last decade, according to EPA data analyzed by AP. Those schools are required to test their own water and send the results to the state which is supposed to forward violations to the federal government.

But that's where the ball gets dropped.

EPA officials say their database of violations is plagued with errors and omissions, and they say the agency doesn't really watch incoming state data on school water quality.

With the problem largely not monitored by the federal government, schools with their own water supplies continued to breach federal safety standards, racking up thousands of violations during the last decade. California, with the most schools, had the most violations, 612, followed by Ohio with 451.

Moreover, even schools that draw their water from public utilities showed contamination, especially in older buildings with poor plumbing. Those schools are not required to test for toxins because the EPA already regulates public water providers, even though the same toxins could show up in homes and businesses.

The health risk for students is different because they're more vulnerable than adults to the effects of hazardous substances. That makes laxity in government monitoring and testing of school water all the more outrageous.

It is imperative that Congress find a solution to streamline government responsibility for school drinking water in order to minimize risks and ensure parents that a stop at the drinking fountain isn't potentially dangerous for their children.

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