Tuesday, June 4, 2019
My mom is one of the leading experts on Lead Poisoning Prevention in the world. She started doing Lead Poisoning Prevention advocacy because I was acutely Lead-Poisoned as a baby (when I was 7 months old.) [See Avi’s story here.]
I have been very interested in her work for quite a while. I have learned from her that there is no real safe level of Lead in drinking water. This makes sense when you think about it. There should not be any amount of poison in water that will be consumed by children (or humans for that matter.)
But even though the CDC’s public statement is that “there is no safe level of Lead exposure for children”, according to current federal laws, the “safe” (acceptable) level of Lead in drinking water coming from a faucet or fountain is anything “below 15 parts per billion.”
2015: When my concerns for Lead in the water in school started…
In the 2015/2016 school year, when I was in 5th grade at Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon I was concerned that the water might have unsafe levels of Lead. I brought bottled water with me to school every day.
That year, after a whole year of being told by the teachers …
- that I was over reacting and…
- that it was not true that there was an unsafe level of Lead in the water and…
- that I was causing unnecessary alarm with my classmates and…
- (some people even arguing with me saying) that they felt that Lead in the water was not even dangerous at all…
…it turned out that after additional testing (by parents and the School District) that the drinking water from the fountains DID have Lead at unsafe levels.
In general 5th grade was a very difficult year for me. While some of my friends believed me, others did not and were angry with me. They did not want to be my friends and they did not believe me about the Lead in the water. They called me paranoid. People reject realities when they are as horrible as the truth is sometimes.
I would like to point out however that the antagonists in this story are not the students or the teachers, it’s much bigger than that. The “antagonist” is ignorance, as it is in most stories… the absence of knowledge and understanding of the subject of lead poisoning and its impact on children specifically.
It took the whole year of trying to bring attention to this matter before anyone listened, before anyone paid attention.
Finally, in May of 2016 – by the end of the school year – the entire community (and the entire country as well) knew that there was an unsafe level of Lead in the water in the Portland Public Schools, Lead that had been poisoning all of my classmates (and my teachers) for years.
The school district turned off the water fountains and then, over the next two and a half years, they said they were working on fixing the problem.
Fast forward to the 2018/2019 school year – 8th Grade
So now I am in middle school (I am just graduating 8th grade), with the same students that were with me in elementary school. Earlier this year when I told my classmates and teachers that the water probably still has unsafe levels of Lead I at least expected the school administrators to have a reasonable doubt enough to do additional testing.
This past winter the school district did eventually do follow up testing and made a determination that the water was “safe to drink” (by federal standards) in some places and they turned back on several of the fountains at my school for my friends to use, including a fountain right outside the special needs learning center (which has been my main classroom for the past three years.)
This caused me great distress, because after seeing the school district’s test results – even by whatever tricks of language they used to create loopholes – I was certain that the water still had unsafe levels of Lead in it, even in the fountains they determined were “safe to drink from”.
I would go to school every single day and watch kids poison themselves (irreversibly) for months by drinking the water, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
How much Lead is too much Lead?
An important point to mention is that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that Lead in school drinking fountains specifically should be below ONE (1) part per billion. Keep this in mind for later as you read.
The Federal standard is currently that Lead in drinking water should be below 15 parts per billion, 15 times the recommendation of the AAP.
Portland Public Schools’ claim was that the fountains that had been turned back on tested positive at levels that were “less than 15 parts per billion” Lead and therefore they were safe for my friends to drink from.
I never drink from the water fountains in the school.
I drink water from home (filtered water from our kitchen sink) or I drink water from the bottled water dispensers in the school’s office.
Interesting to note:
- The fountains at Sellwood Middle School remained off for nearly two and a half years (until this winter).
- Until they turned the fountains back on in the school, bottled water dispensers were available for students all over the school.
- Since the fountains have been turned back on, bottled water dispensers are currently only available in the cafeteria / gym, the office and the teacher’s lounge (suspiciously…)
…I say “suspiciously” because perhaps the delivered water is still in the teachers’ areas specifically because the teachers (secretly) know the water is still unsafe to drink. Or maybe it’s because the teachers still didn’t want to drink from the fountains – even though they were okay with young kids drinking from the fountains. Of course this is speculation, but I did talk to a couple of teachers about this and they said they would NEVER drink the water from the school fountains even when the school says it is safe.
So if I am thirsty while I am at school I must go to the teacher’s lounge or to the office for bottled water (because there are usually programs or classes happening in the cafeteria.)
“Safe to Drink”
Not only did the Portland Public School District turn the drinking fountains in my school (Sellwood Middle School) back on around the beginning of 2019, but they put bright green (as in “green means go”) signage up encouraging children to drink from them (see photo above).
I have been furious and very distraught by this.
After seeing my classmates be poisoned from drinking the water every day over the past several months at fountains with signage indicating they were safe to drink from (even when I knew they were not) including seeing my friends take their medicine they need during the school day with this contaminated water I eventually became fed up with the school’s lack of action (and being told I too should drink from these fountains) and I decided to test the water myself.
Tuesday, May 28, 2019 – Testing The Water
Luckily my mom’s good friend Lee Wasserman owns a water testing company that sells DIY-test kits for Lead (where you collect the samples and then send them off to a lab for formal testing), so I was able to get four free test kits for testing water from him.
On May 28, 2019 (a week ago today) I collected samples from two of the downstairs fountains in my middle school… fountains that each have a bright green “safe to drink” sign.
As a “control” (and for comparison), my mom collected two samples from our house, one sample from our kitchen sink that has a Lead filter on it and one sample from our bathroom sink that does not have a filter, but that we do not drink from because we have always been concerned that it might have Lead.
Note: I intentionally took samples of the first water out of the school water fountains on a Tuesday morning after a three-day holiday weekend (before any children had been in the school) because I wanted the test results to reflect the highest possible Lead level that a child would be consuming from that fountain (the worst case scenario).
Here’s a 3-1/2 minute video
of me collecting the samples at my school.
We would have tested more samples in the school, but I didn’t want to be told that I was not allowed to test them and that everything was fine with those fountains (which I had been told repeatedly by teachers and administrators at the school.)
After I collected the samples my mom went with my little brother (Charlie) to the post office and mailed them to the testing company (CertifiedKit.com) to be analyzed.
Here’s a 2-1/2 minute video of my thoughts on
May 28th (after collecting the samples)
Fast Forward To Today, Tuesday, June 4, 2019… Results!
Today the test results were e-mailed back to my mom (see full test results below).
The “Control”: Test results of the filtered water from the kitchen sink in our home (report below)
I’m happy to report that the water that I drink and use to clean the dishes and cook with is completely clean and the filters we use (under our sink) remove any detectable Lead. The test result from our kitchen sink was “less than one part per billion” (<1 ppb) – which is the lowest result reported by this testing company. This means it is essentially negative for Lead and safe to drink.
Special Needs Classroom Fountain, Ms. Fisher’s Room (report below)
Outside of the Special Needs Classroom (Ms. Fisher’s class, my homeroom for most of the past three years) the fountain drinking water sample tested positive for 14.4 parts per billion (ppb) Lead. Even though this is below the standard the school district has chosen to follow, that standard (the federal standard) does not protect children’s health. The water should still be below 1 ppb and, at this level (14.4 ppb) is considered very poisonous to children by the American Academy of Pediatrics and others working to protect children.
Marimba / Math Classroom Fountain, Mr. Beck’s Room (report below)
Furthermore the water outside the Marimba room tested positive for 27.3 ppb Lead. This is the fountain I see people (including my friends) drink from every single day as I have two classes in Mr. Beck’s classroom (the Marimba room). This is considered toxic even by the less strict federal standards and is COMPLETELY unacceptable.
Our bathroom sink (report below)
I’m disappointed that our bathroom sink has problems, but I am glad that it is not used for any drinking or substantial washing. Even then I think we should get a filter on our bathroom sink. Most important: when you look at the bathroom sink in our 1905 home having a test result of 4.18 ppb Lead, it really shows how ridiculously hight the Lead levels at the school are by comparison.
I cannot believe how terrible this is and I am going to go talk to the teachers about this.
I wonder why the school doesn’t just already use filters (like the ones we use in our home) to filter out the Lead. They should just already have these filters in place even if they don’t think there is Lead in the water, just in case something happens in the water delivery system (to cover a worst case scenario.) If they say that they don’t have good enough filters because they don’t have enough money, getting better filters should be a higher priority on their “to do list” or they should just get more funding specifically for better filters in all the schools. It’s the prevention of poisoning children for life on the line here.
My advice to you is that you should also investigate. You shouldn’t just take your school district’s word that the water is safe for your children to drink. You should test it on your own or petition someone to test it for your school.
Sellwood Middle School, 8th Grade
Portland, Oregon – USA
Avi Rubin has a brain injury from being acutely lead poisoned as a baby at 7 months old. His visual memory is in the 4th percentile (which impacts his ability to read and write) but he has a 130 I.Q. (one point shy of MENSA). He dictated the above letter to mom, who typed it for him.
Avi’s final thoughts on this (video)…
(continue reading below the video to see the water test result reports).
… and from mom….
Mom’s take on the situation to be posted shortly.
This is the test result for the fountain outside the special needs support classroom (Ms. Fisher’s classroom):