toxic waste

Education, I feel, is crucial to this nation’s vitality. Fewer things anger me more than people playing politics at students’ expense – especially the schoolchildren.

Or as I call them, our nation’s future.

Hearing of abysmal high school graduation rates, sub-par education, and mismanaging of monies poured into the nation’s education systems is maddening enough.

This, however, is far worse.

An Associated Press report uncovered some damning information – that contaminants – from lead and copper to pesticides to arsenic – was found in drinking water of schools nationwide.

More telling, however, was this piece:

Experts and children’s advocates complain that responsibility for drinking water is spread among too many local, state and federal agencies, and that risks are going unreported. Finding a solution, they say, would require a costly new national strategy for monitoring water in schools.

(Emphasis mine.)

If true, that means bureaucratic bloat is at play, and where there’s bloat, there’s waste.

And that waste is finding its way into our children’s drinking water.

Moreover, this problem is not new; reading this article took me back roughly 10 years, when I was in the 8th grade. Then, we had an earth science group that conducted experiments every so often – one of them was a test of the school water’s pH level. That experiment concluded that the water’s pH level was 6 (slightly acidic); pure water has a pH level of 7, or neutral.

Now, the implication that the cost of effectuating a new water-monitoring strategy presents problems really irks me, given what the nation has spent within the last year. Let’s play a little numbers game:

  • In 2008, then-President Bush authorized a $700 billion bailout of several large banks, designed to prevent a total collapse of the nation’s lending system (and the economy, as times were really rough then). However, this article states that the true cost of the bailouts could reach $4 trillion – at least $1 trillion of which will fall on taxpayers’ shoulders.
  • Speaking of bailouts, let’s not forget the series of automotive bailouts which, between GM and Chrysler alone, total over $70 billion.
  • The economic stimulus package, authorized by President Obama, totaled $787 billion.
  • President Obama’s proposed health-care overhaul plan, facing immense scrutiny from all sides, is looking at a twelve-figure price tag.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Adding up those numbers yields roughly $6 trillion – more than half the U.S. national debt! Admittedly the bailouts and the stimulus were responses to an economic emergency, but methinks children’s health is no less urgent. Unfortunately, the insanity doesn’t end there.

According to the article, the EPA cannot mandate testing of schools’ water because it lacks the authority to do so! Although government authorities have stepped up their inspections (and unearthed more gross violations), I believe it is not enough. Letting this problem persist the way it has is unconscionable; given these details, making regular inspections mandatory would be a good first step to ameliorating the problem.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.

Schools have varying sources of water – water drawn from wells and water drawn from public utilities; there are also different standards for testing the water in each case. Schools with their own water sources must test it and report any problems. However:

EPA officials acknowledge the agency’s database of violations is plagued with errors and omissions. And the agency does not specifically monitor incoming state data on school water quality.

Critics say those practices prevent the government from reliably identifying the worst offenders — and carrying out enforcement.

(Emphasis mine.)

Clearly the issue is muddy; if the EPA’s database contains such flaws, what then of schools that aren’t required to report problems? From the same article:

…voluntary tests in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles have found dangerous levels of lead in recent years. And experts warn the real risk to schoolchildren is going unreported.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is the result of lack of enforcement. As one can clearly discern, this is a huge problem. But what’s being done about it?

Some districts have resorted to buying water bottles en masse, citing costs (there’s that word again; in other words, buying water is cheaper than repairing/replacing old pipes in schools, where said pipes contribute to contamination).

Others are trying to fight the problem head-on; California, for instance, spent a few million dollars to overhaul some water systems. Unfortunately, California has immense economic problems of its own.

In short, states took some action; methinks it’s not enough. If we, as a nation, can spend trillions of dollars on bailouts, stimulus, and the very important issue of health care reform, then I believe we can invest something for the students‘ sake. Unfortunately, long as bureaucratic groupthink persists, it’ll be a while before this issue is truly resolved. That, my friends, would be a great but unfortunate example of toxic waste.

To borrow a tired line, would someone please think of the children?

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