Is the Los Angeles school district misleading parents about the safety of drinking water in their schools?
May 2008 - Ever since a KNBC investigation uncovered high levels of lead in the water at schools, the district has mounted a campaign, to calm parent's fears. But as investigative reporter Joel Grover found, some of what the district is telling parents just isn't true.
The school district is putting out the word on its Web site and in letters sent to thousands of parents, in five languages. They're talking to parents at community meetings.
The district's message: There's no risk from the high amounts of lead in the water at Some LA Schools.
"The water here is not risky water," said Dr. Cyrus Rangan with the LA County Department of Public Health at a town hall meeting at Woodlake Avenue Elementary in Woodland Hills, The district's own tests showed unsafe levels of lead in the water at some fountains at Woodlake.
The district brought in Dr. Rangan to address parents concerns about lead in school water.
"If you eat one Brussels sprout, you are going to get far more lead from that one Brussels sprout than you will get from weeks of drinking water here," Rangan told parents.
Really? KNBC decided to buy some Brussels sprouts, and we had them tested for lead, at a State certified lab.
"No lead in the Brussels sprout," Grover asked the lab technician. "No lead. It's safe to eat," the technician replied.
The district also told parents their kids are getting far more lead at home than at School.
"I guarantee you, that if you tested the milk, the soda, the juice, the water that your child gets in your own home, it dwarfs the lead that your child is getting exposed to here," Rangan told the crowd.
So KNBC also bought some milk and juice and the lab found them free of lead too. KNBC also sampled water from the kitchen sinks of three Woodlake Avenue Elementary families, and had them analyzed for lead.
"No lead?" Grover asked the lab technician.
"No lead," the technician replied.
But that's not the case with the water from a Woodlake fountain, which had been dispensing water with 113 parts per billion of lead. That's over seven times the EPA limit.
Grover asked Hilary Godwin, a toxicologist and lead expert at UCLA's School of Public Health, "Would you want your kid drinking that water?"
"No," Godwin replied.
Professor Godwin calculated that if a child had consumed a few ounces of water from that fountain at Woodlake, they would've exceeded the daily intake of lead that the FDA says is tolerable or safe for small children.
"It's less than two ounces, its sort of a big gulp of water for a kid to exceed what's the recommended daily limit," Godwin said.
Experts also tell KNBC the district is misleading parents, with a new section on its Website, which asks, "Is my child at risk of lead poisoning from drinking water?"
The district says "no."
"Could the lead in this water contribute to lead poisoning?" Grover asked Godwin.
"It could contribute," she replied.
Godwin points out that kids might consume more lead from other sources, like paint or soil, but drinking lead-laced water at school increases their risk of lead poisoning.
"Even though that doesn't mean your kid will be lead poisoned at that point, then you're starting to contribute significantly to the amount of lead they're intaking," Godwin told Grover.
Publicly, the district keeps telling parents not to worry, but internally, they're moving fast to reduce lead contamination in their water. A memo KNBC obtained from Superintendent David Brewer to the school board says they're spending $1.5 million to test the water at all schools. The memo also recommends placing filters on all water fountains, at a cost of $53 million.