HomePasifikaHow many of Guam's public schools are polluted with lead?

How many of Guam’s public schools are polluted with lead?

After lead was found in the water and doors of two of the island’s elementary schools, one Guamanian legislator is demanding that all 41 schools in the US territory be tested for lead.

In August, lead testing required for federal Head Start funding found the toxic heavy metal, according to the Guam Daily Post. Guam’s Department of Education (GDOE) initially refrained from sharing the levels of lead detected, which they claimed “tested below the threshold.”

But that wasn’t enough for Guamanian Senator Chris Malafunkshun Barnett (D), especially once the latest report on the concentration of lead detected was shared. Barnett is the chair of the Committee on Education in Guam’s legislature.

In a press release reported on by the Guam Daily Post, the senator said that “A cafeteria sink at Juan M. Guerrero tested at 22.7 ppb and one at Machananao Elementary tested at 20.6 ppb,” both above the 15 parts-per-billion (PPB) federal limit.

In response to the issues, Sen. Barnett demanded that “GDOE must conduct testing of lead levels in water from all drinking water sources and hand-washing sinks across all schools immediately,” justified by lead being found in two different school buildings, built three decades apart.

Originally, GDOE said that the levels detected were low enough to not mandate any new tests, highlighting that they had ordered second and third tests at the two elementary schools. There is no known level below which lead has no harmful effects, and children are especially vulnerable.

GDOE also said that it will test the water supply at all 41 public schools in Guam to ensure safety, but hasn’t offered a timeline yet. To Barnett, that testing needs to be done immediately, transparently, and thoroughly—it’s not enough to test the school’s water supply, instead individual sinks and taps must be tested.

Barnett criticized GDOE for failing to follow what he called “the basic principles of transparency required from public institutions like the education department.”

The senator said that top GDOE administrators knew about the lead issue in August, but students, parents and teachers only learned about it from the media over a month later. Speaking to the Guam Daily News, Barnett said that “When it comes to transparency, GDOE leadership gets a failing grade.”

Lead contamination is an issue faced across the world, with two major sources being lead-based paint and pipe fittings. However, with the high level of military activity on the island, Guam also faces issues with lead contamination from the lead bullets shot at firing ranges, according to activists.

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