Joint Public Oversight Hearing
Lead Testing in Public Facilities
Testimony of Samantha Davis, The Black Swan Academy
Good morning Chairperson Grosso and Chairperson Cheh,
I am Samantha Davis, Founder and Director of The Black Swan Academy. The Black Swan Academy is a non profit organization creating a pipeline of black youth civic leaders dedicated to improving themselves, as well as, the communities in which they live. We are providing out of school time programming for nearly 40 DCPS youth in SE, DC and reach 1,200 Ward 7 & 8 residents through community service events, forums and outreach efforts.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today regarding the high levels of lead found in DCPS schools.
On April 29th, The Black Swan Academy joined forces with Black Millennials for Flint and Rising Sons to send 21 DC youth leaders and adults to Flint, Michigan. While there, we supported local advocacy campaigns and distributed over 400 cases of water, wipes and hand sanitizer to the families most impacted by the Flint Water Crisis. Not even two weeks after we returned from helping the residents of Flint, our Sousa students were sent home a notice from their school stating that 35 water sources in their school tested positive for high levels of lead. Needless to say our students and parents were shocked. Sousa now joins at least 37 DCPS schools and 4 DC libraries that have tested for high levels of lead. Exposure to lead has severe long-term consequences to DC residents, our youth and our economy. While we are pleased that DC government is taking steps to test public facilities, we want to make sure we are being proactive, thorough, diligent in order to avoid mistakes of our past and those we have seen made in Flint.
We commend DGS and DCPS for posting timely reports of each school’s test results on their websites and for sending letters homes. We believe, however, immediate steps can and need to be taken to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the issue, its health risks and are able to gain confidence in the government’s ability to address the problem.
- Currently, the DCPS website states only 12 schools were identified with lead levels above EPA’s standards. According to EPA “Lead Rule”, if lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb in more than 10% of customer taps sampled the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. After reviewing school’s test results, in Ward 7 & 8, 71% (25/35) of schools had multiple water sources with high levels of lead. yet were not included in this group of 12 schools. We must clearly display the names of all schools who have water sources tested above this level. We must treat all of these cases urgently and notify the stakeholders accordingly.
- Throughout the years, results have not been consistent. This indicates a systemic issue and/or major discrepancies in the collection and reporting of data. For example: according to the 2016 Lead in Water sampling results, in December 2015, 100% of the samples taken at Sousa middle school passed. However, not even a year later these same water sources were tested to have levels as high as “201 ppb”. This is a red flag. If we are to assume that the results were reported accurately in both instances, then we must dive deeper and identify/tackle the root cause of the significant increase in lead exposure in these water sources.
- The effects of lead exposure, as well as, the ways to avoid and address it, are not common knowledge. In fact, the amount of information on this issue is constantly growing and the guidelines are changing. Sending letters home to parents is not enough. Education is a key component to ensuring the safety of our children and families. we have to be proactive and take the proper precautions. We must provide trainings to school faculty members, offer educational resources and host community meetings for parent,students and all stakeholders.
We recognize the solution to a lead free DC, must be strategic. As the government continues to address exposure to lead in DC, we ask for you to consider the following recommendations.
- Cut off water supply completely and provide alternative drinking water to schools with water sources tested for high levels of lead.
- Provide on site blood lead screenings at every school with water sources tested for high levels of lead.
- Filters are not a solution. We must include the replacement of pipes in all future school modernization efforts. In the meantime, we need to create a system to ensure that filters are replaced regularly.
- Provide training, educational resources and convene community meetings appropriate for all stakeholders (youth, parents, educators and community members).
- Given DC’s bleak history with contaminated water, we strongly urge the DC City Council to require the testing of water sources in family and single adult shelters, public housing and other low-moderate income housing developments.
Thank you for your consideration.
Samantha Paige Davis
The Black Swan Academy