Protecting the Health and Safety of Our Children

Photo: Angela Guyadeen

The Flint water crisis, which came into the primetime spotlight this year, prompted many communities to take a harder look at the safety of their own water. In response, Chicago Public Schools began voluntarily testing for lead at all public schools throughout the city after an initial pilot testing program found several schools had elevated levels of lead in the drinking water.  

And now, the Illinois General Assembly upped the ante by passing a bill headed to Governor Rauner requiring public schools built before 2000 with pre-kindergarten through fifth grade classes, along with licensed daycare facilities, to test drinking water for lead. Lead is especially harmful for children and can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and other detrimental, lifelong health impacts. Despite these high risks, there is no state or federal law that requires testing in schools and daycares.

Access to safe, clean water should be a fundamental human right. Sadly as we’ve seen from the Flint water crisis, we’ve got a long way to go before this becomes a reality. This law adopting testing requirements to protect children is a positive step in the right direction. In order to pave a path for success for our next generation, having a safe environment to learn is imperative—anything jeopardizing the health and safety of our children must be addressed immediately.

Testing for lead in the drinking water is a crucial first step in making access to water a human right a reality and helps schools better identify the scope of the problem. This testing protocol also helps communities decide how they can prevent children from being exposed to the neurotoxin in schools. There is no safe level of lead—prevention is key to protection.

Despite the far too frequent political paralysis that exists in politics, the Illinois Legislative Green Caucus should be recognized for their recent and effective, bipartisan approach to advancing public policy. The work and leadership of the Legislative Green Caucus over the last two months has led the way toward improved public health, rebuilding the state’s economy, while reducing the state’s share of burdensome air and water pollution.

Most recently, the Illinois Green Caucus helped secure passage of the Future Energy Jobs legislation described by Vox as, “perhaps the second biggest climate action taken by a state in recent years after California’s ground-breaking [legislative] efforts.”

Progress is always possible when everyone comes to the table with ideas and a willingness to work together. We may not have arrived at the solution to permanently prevent lead exposure, but I’m hopeful this new law is a positive sign of more good news to come.

About the Authors

Henry Henderson

Director, Midwest program

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