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Chicago aldermen demand hearings on lead contamination in schools... '...Lead shouldn’t be in our vocabulary in this day and age. We know how to get rid of it, we know how to test for it and we know how to keep our kids safe from it...'

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), along with Chicago Teachers Union officials [John Kugler (left) & Micheal Brunson(right)] and other members of the Chicago City Council Progressive Reform Caucus (Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, middle), proposed a hearing during City Council's June 22 meeting. They want a hearing at which aldermen and community members could discuss recently discovered lead contamination in the water systems of at least 14 Chicago Public Schools. Substance photo by Martin Ritter.
As a result of the growing concern for the safety of children and staff in Chicago Public Schools, Alderman Chris Taliaferro of the 29th Ward and fellow members of the Chicago City Council Progressive Reform Caucus held a press conference on June 13, 2016 at City Hall. At the press conference, they announced the introduction of a resolution demanding City Council hearings on lead found in CPS drinking water at at least 14 CPS schools (reported as of the time of the press conference).

On June 13, CPS announced that five more schools tested for elevated levels of lead, bringing to 19 buildings where tests have uncovered lead levels that exceed a federal standard of 15 parts per billion.

“In 2016 it is unacceptable that we’ve reached the risk of putting our children in harm’s way just by sending them to school,” Progressive Caucus leader Alderman Chris Taliaferro (29th) said. “Lead shouldn’t be in our vocabulary in this day and age. We know how to get rid of it, we know how to test for it and we know how to keep our kids safe from it.”

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner responded in a statement, “If City Council would like to hold hearings to learn more about the program, CPS officials would be happy to join the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Water Management to testify about our efforts to test the water of every school in the district for lead, as well as our plans to resolve issues where they are found.”

"I think what we need, and what we're looking for, is a comprehensive plan to address the issue of lead in water in the city of Chicago," said Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, who joined Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, and other members of the council's Progressive Reform Caucus to demand hearings.

John Kugler [this reporter], a Chicago Teachers Union field representative, said the union filed a grievance regarding the water testing on May 2 with CPS and that the district has yet to officially respond to it. The grievance demands information about the district’s water testing, training for employees on how to identify safety hazards within the work place as well as how to protect children from lead contamination, and testing for CPS staff members who also drink from the schools’ water.

CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson urged aldermen and community members to get involved in the city’s water testing for the safety of CPS students. He said he knows from teaching that one of kids’ favorite pastimes in school is to take a break and drink water, so it is important that the water they are drinking is safe.

“We have to make sure [students] are in a safe environment and the water must be safe because it does not take very much lead to damage a child for life,” Brunson said.

References:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-cps-lead-test-results-met-0614-20160613-story.html

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/councils-progressive-caucus-demands-action-on-school-lead-levels/

https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20160613/downtown/outraged-aldermen-want-hearings-about-lead-cps-drinking-water

DNA INFO REPORT ON THE INCREASE TO 19 SCHOOLS.

Lead Now Found In Water At 19 Chicago Public Schools, DNA Info Chicago, By Ted Cox ,June 13, 2016 11:43am

PHOTO CAPTION. Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Christopher Taliaferro and Chicago Teachers Union Secretary Michael Brunson called for public hearings on lead found in CPS water. Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Christopher Taliaferro and Chicago Teachers Union Secretary Michael Brunson called for public hearings on lead found in CPS water. View Full Caption DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — As the number of Chicago Public Schools testing positive for unsafe levels of lead in water rose to 19, aldermen called Monday for public hearings on the matter.

"This is an issue we need to get right," said Ald. Christopher Taliaferro (29th) in a news conference at City Hall.

CPS announced Monday that four more schools had tested positive for unsafe levels of lead after Blair Elementary, the 15th school. Those included Chappell, Durkin Park and Gunsaulus, all of which had kitchen sinks that failed tests, as well as Wentworth, which had four drinking fountains fail.

Taliaferro is main sponsor of a resolution to be submitted at this month's City Council meeting calling for hearings. He said he demanded answers on how this happened, what CPS is doing to correct it and how the district intends to keep it from happening again.

"In 2016, it is outrageous that we must face the risk of putting our children in harm's way by sending them to school," Taliaferro said. "Lead shouldn't even be in our vocabulary in this day and age. We know how to get rid of lead. We know how to test for it. We know how to keep our kids safe from it. So that it is present in our schools must be unacceptable to us."

Chicago Teachers Union Secretary Michael Brunson joined in the call for hearings, emphasizing, "It does not take very much lead at all to damage a child for life." Union representative John Kugler said teachers had already filed a grievance with the district over lead concerns.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) sought to expand the testing, calling for "a comprehensive plan to address the issue of lead in the water in the City of Chicago."

The resolution was set for the Health Committee, with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) as chairman, but aldermen said they welcomed a joint meeting with the Education Committee and its chairman, Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st).

Taliaferro and Waguespack led the Council's Progressive Reform Caucus in calling for the hearings, joined Monday by Aldermen Toni Foulkes (16th) and David Moore (17th).

"I cannot imagine that any alderman would not be in support of hearings on this matter," Taliaferro said.

"CPS is committed to ensuring that our children’s drinking water in their schools is safe, which is why we voluntarily began a districtwide lead testing program," said spokeswoman Emily Bittner. "If City Council would like to hold hearings to learn more about the program, CPS officials would be happy to join the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Water Management to testify about our efforts to test the water of every school in the district for lead, as well as our plans to resolve issues where they are found."

After CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool previously said all schools would be tested for lead, starting with those built before new regulations took effect in 1986, Taliaferro called for all Chicago Public Schools to be tested as soon as possible, preferably before the end of the school year.

"We have a summer to get this right," Taliaferro said.

TRIBUNE STORY JUNE 14, 2016 (PRINT EDITION)...

Aldermen want hearings on lead testing in schools CPS : Elevated levels in water at 5 more buildings, By Juan Perez Jr. and Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune

Chicago Public Schools said Monday that elevated levels of toxic lead have been found in the water at five more buildings, including a South Side school for disabled children, while a group of aldermen called for public hearings on the issue.

Blair Early Childhood Center, a specialty school for disabled children between the ages of 3 and 6, is among 19 CPS buildings where tests have uncovered lead levels that exceed a federal standard of 15 parts per billion. Some test samples at Blair rank among the highest levels of lead detected since districtwide water testing was launched last month.

Like many of the 74 schools where water test results have been collected, samples in late May from fixtures at Blair contained a wide range of lead levels. High lead levels were found in three sinks and one drinking fountain, CPS said.

Water from one sink at the Clearing-area school showed lead levels as high as 1,100 parts per billion, while the water fountain showed levels as high as 357 parts per billion, according to test results released by the district. The district said the sink is in an office and is rarely used.

Before CPS released the test results Monday that added five schools to the total with high lead levels, several of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's critics on the City Council called for hearings on lead in school water.

“I think what we need, and what we're looking for, is a comprehensive plan to address the issue of lead in water in the city of Chicago,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, who joined Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, and other members of the council's Progressive Reform Caucus to demand hearings.

Aldermen said they had not contacted the committee chairmen who would have to agree to the hearings. Instead, they called the media to a news conference.

“Our children in our communities are facing so many challenges right now, from school funding to social service agency cuts to a lack of a state budget to gun violence. But this is a solvable problem. Lead shouldn't be in our vocabulary in this day and age,” Taliaferro said.

CPS said it has tested water at 224 of 324 school buildings that were constructed prior to 1986 and have pre-kindergarten programs. So far, the district said it has received test results for 74 schools. The district, which says it will eventually test the water at all schools, plans to schedule “regional information meetings” for community members to discuss the issue.

In a statement, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the district “would be happy” to testify about its lead testing alongside the city's public health and water management departments.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's “action level” for lead of 15 parts per billion, spelled out in the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, was intended to flag corrosion problems in a community's lead pipes and plumbing. Rather than basing the standard on the health hazards posed by lead, regulators chose the limit largely because at the time they thought it could be met by most water systems.

According to the latest results from the district, water fountains in the basement of Wentworth Elementary in West Englewood showed lead readings as high as 170 parts per billion. A water fountain on the school's second floor tested as high as 35.5 parts per billion.

At Reilly Elementary on the Northwest Side, four drinking fountains and four sinks showed high levels, CPS officials said. Samples from a water fountain on Reilly's main floor showed lead levels as high as 340 parts per billion, according to a summary of tests conducted June 8. Kindergarten room sinks in the school's annex also showed high levels, including one result that landed at 354 parts per billion. The district said it will retest the water at Reilly this week.

The district said it is turning off any water sources where testing shows lead above the federal standards.

Late last week, city health and district officials said preliminary testing indicated that a handful of students who attend Tanner Elementary on the South Side, the first school where high levels of lead were found in the water, had elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams. Follow-up tests were planned.

Follow-up tests on the students at Tanner were needed to confirm the initial test results, said Dr. Julie Morita, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health. More information about CPS lead testing is available at www.cps.edu/leadtesting.

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES STORY BELOW HERE...

Problematic lead levels found in 25% of CPS schools tested by Lauren FitzPatrick and Jacob Wittich

As Chicago Public Schools continues to test drinking water for lead, 19 schools — about 25 percent of those with available results — have been found with problematic lead levels.

With results now available from 74 elementary schools, CPS announced Monday that water at five more schools tested above Environmental Protection Agency action levels of 15 parts per billion.

Perhaps most troubling was lead in a drinking fountain and three sinks at Blair Early Childhood Center, 6751 W 63rd Pl., which serves children in grades pre-K through 2nd grade with physical and cognitive problems. During some rounds of testing, water at the special education school had lead present at hundreds of particles per billion. Exposure to lead has been linked to cognitive development problems in young children.

Four drinking fountains at Wentworth Elementary School, 1340 W. 71st St., also have been shut down as a result, CPS said. Chappell, 2135 W. Foster Ave., and Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy, 4420 S. Sacramento Ave., each had high lead levels in a kitchen sink, and Durkin Park Elementary School, 8445 S. Kolin Ave. also had a problematic sink.

The district says it hired two private companies to test “out of an abundance of caution” in the wake of the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, but the rate of schools with lead in their water has risen from about one in five last week to about one in four.

Aldermen from the Progressive Reform Caucus met at City Hall on Monday morning to call for City Council hearings. They said they would introduce a nonbinding resolution at neat week’s Council meeting.

“In 2016 it is unacceptable that we’ve reached the risk of putting our children in harm’s way just by sending them to school,” Caucus leader Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said. “Lead shouldn’t be in our vocabulary in this day and age. We know how to get rid of it, we know how to test for it and we know how to keep our kids safe from it.”

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner responded in a statement, “If City Council would like to hold hearings to learn more about the program, CPS officials would be happy to join the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Water Management to testify about our efforts to test the water of every school in the district for lead, as well as our plans to resolve issues where they are found.”

The district says about 4 percent of fixtures tested have come back with a sample above the EPA’s action level — or 41 out of 1,007.

The district promised to test 324 schools by early next week when classes end. It has prioritized those buildings most at risk because they have a pre-K program, are in structures built before 1986 and have cooking kitchens. About 224 have been completed; eventually all schools will be tested.

The problem fixtures have been shut off, Bittner said, and parents at each of the schools have been notified. CPS is developing plans to fix the problems.

Reilly Elementary School, previously announced to have very high levels of lead in water fountains and kindergarten sinks, will be retested Tuesday to see whether plumbing fixes have worked. Meanwhile, water coolers are being provided while the fixtures are shut off.

Taliaferro said he hopes that CPS officials, public health experts, parents and others will be able to join the proposed public hearing to testify for new legislation to address issues of lead contamination in the city’s water.

“This isn’t just a Chicago issue, it’s a national issue, and we are looking for the federal government to come to the table as well as the state and the City of Chicago water department to address the City Council and discuss the issues that are facing Chicagoans,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Taliaferro added that parents should speak to their children’s principals about ensuring every district school has its water tested and he thinks most, if not all schools should have their water tested before school resumes in the fall.

John Kugler, a Chicago Teachers Union field representative, said the union filed a grievance regarding the water testing on May 2 with CPS but the district has yet to officially respond. The grievance demands information about the district’s water testing; training for employees on how to identify safety hazards within the workplace; how to protect children from lead contamination; and testing for CPS staff members who also drink the schools’ water.

CTU officer Michael Brunson urged aldermen and community members to get involved in the city’s water testing for the safety of CPS students. He said he knows from teaching that one of kids’ favorite pastimes in school is to take a break and drink water, so it is important that the water they are drinking is safe.

“We have to make sure [students] are in a safe environment and the water must be safe because it does not take very much lead to damage a child for life,” Brunson said.



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