Hidden lead dangers inside and out at St. Louis Public Schools
Superintendent Kelvin Adams told the I-Team it would “do a better job” and warned parents that their children could be exposed
ST. LOUIS – St. Louis architecture is rich in history, including schools. Like most buildings over 48 years old, these schools also house hidden sources of toxic lead.
Stephen Snyder first noticed it on the chain link fence around his son’s elementary school.
“It scared me. And I was pretty worried, not just for my own child, but for all of the children here, especially the younger ones, ”said Snyder.
He recognized the signature alligator skin pattern on the aging lead-based paint because he had recently removed the same hazard from his historic home. Snyder used a household lead test kit on a school fence, which confirmed his fears. In late 2019, he shared his findings with the Saint Louis Public Schools Education Committee.
In response, the school board brought in Jeff Faust of Environmental Consultants, LLC.
“It’s not a surprise. All of the fencing dates back to 1978, so it’s as expected, ”said Faust.
Faust has been working in lead refurbishment for SLPS for more than a decade. The district asked Faust and his company to test the fences and floors of 44 district elementary schools for the presence of lead. Only schools built before 1990 were tested.
“Lead has been identified in virtually all painted fences,” said Faust. “In certain schools there are certainly elevated levels of lead in the soil.”
Julie Weber of the Missouri Poison Control Center told the I-Team that this is especially dangerous for children under 6, the age at which a child is eligible for first grade in Missouri.
“The big concern is whether it will flake off or if there are chips of lead in the vicinity that a child could take in,” Weber said. “It could limit growth, affect blood counts, and cause anemia or neurotoxicity. It could pose a risk of lowering IQ or leading to attention deficit disorder.”
Faust and SLPS informed the I-Team that their next step would be to reduce the potential for students to touch the fences with leaded paint. That wasn’t found when 5 On Your Side attended 10 elementary schools with the highest levels of leadership.
As far north as Bryan Hill and as far south as Woerner, the I-Team saw students playing on and around the fences. Dozens of parents interviewed in schools, none of them knew that lead paints were present.
Dierdre Smith’s grandson visits the Woerner Elementary in the Bevo district of the Südstadt.
“You haven’t told us anything about the leadership,” said Smith. “I think more parents need to know… children pull jackets on the fence, run along the fence and touch their mouths. Yes it is sad. “
The results of the lead tests for all 41 SLPS primary schools can be found on the interactive map below or by clicking here.
The test results obtained by the I-Team showed that the lead levels on Woerner’s chain link fences were 40 times higher than the EPA standard for lead-based paints.
“Neither the federal government nor the state of Missouri require school districts to test their schools for lead paint at this time. And there is no law in the state of Missouri that requires schools to test drinking water for lead,” said Faust.
In Illinois, the Department of Health asked all schools in buildings built before 2000 to test their drinking water for lead by 2018. Faust said there are also no requirements for lead-based color tests for schools in Illinois.
Team I asked SLPS superintendent Kelvin Adams what the district had done to warn parents of the danger.
“It’s not normal practice every time we run tests to ship something,” said Adams. “It was discussed in the board meetings in February and March last year.”
The I-Team PJ Randhawa asked why students weren’t prevented from playing around and on the fences in schools where contamination is present.
“This is something we can do better to make sure we reach our employees,” said Adams. “I would say the district will do a better job on public relations.”
Faust told the I-Team that the only way to remove the source of contamination is to replace five miles of fence, which costs around $ 2 million.
“At this point in time we have no plan to do the fencing today. We didn’t make up our minds to continue, ”said Adams. “We have some other priorities, of course, where kids are every day, buildings that we’ll be working on in the summer.”
Since the danger won’t go away, Snyder said he had to teach his son that the fence is a danger.
“He doesn’t understand the reasons. So we had to tell him, we just said it was poison and it was bad for you, ”said Snyder.
Adams told the I-Team that the school district’s priority right now is to refurbish windows in some elementary schools that may also contain leaded paint.
Smith shared her concerns with this approach.
“So what do you say, what are you going to do about it? Nothing? “She asked.” Really, we’re just praying our kids don’t come home with lead poisoning. “
How to protect your family
Weber recommends children wash their hands after playing in areas with lead-contaminated fences. She also suggests parents have their child’s pediatrician check their blood levels for lead.
The Missouri Poison Control Center is available 24 days a day, 7 days a week to answer questions. You can reach them at 800-222-1222.
For more information on lead poisoning prevention, visit the CDC website.