HARRISBURG, Pa. (WENY) - Advocates in Harrisburg are looking to raise awareness about the importance of clean drinking water, especially in schools. Today, teachers unions and environmental organizations shined a spotlight on an issue flowing into Pennsylvania schools: lead. 

“Good drinking water- that should be up there at the top of the list. If we want to make sure that our students are coming out of our schools with the best education possible, we need to make sure that the environment that they're in is the best environment possible,” said Jeff Ney, Vice President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). “There should be regular testing of all the water fountains and water that goes into our schools to make sure that the contaminants are zero,” he added. 

Lead poisoning is especially harmful to young children. According to the CDC, exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, as well as hearing and speech problems. 

“First of all, it hinders development. It leads to decreased IQ scores, an increase in ADHD and the research has shown the achievement levels then are clearly lower when kids are subjected to lead and suffer from lead poisoning,” said Arthur Steinberg, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Pennsylvania. “No level of lead is safe,” he added. 

Steinberg says the state is not equipped with a comprehensive approach to the issue. 

“The damage from it is irreversible and they do not have any policy in place to even test for it, let alone remediate it,” said Steinberg. “Pennsylvania is sorely lacking in its response to the presence of lead in drinking water in schools.” 

“Our kids should not be being exposed to a potent neurotoxin in the very place they're going to learn and grow, learn their ABCs, learn to do math. We shouldn't be giving them brain damage,” said Stepanie Wein, a clean water advocate with PennEnvironment. “The contamination is happening in the walls, it's in the solder, it's in the pipes, it's in the faucets. Wherever there is lead, you have a risk of contamination,” she added. 

Wein and others at the press event say the solution is testing and filtering at the point of use. 

Lead has no odor, you can't see it. We don't know in any given day if it's coming out of the tap. Those filters provide that peace of mind,” said Wein, adding that it’s a statewide issue that needs a statewide fix through legislation in Harrisburg. “This shouldn't be pigeonholed as a rural problem or a suburban problem or an urban problem. It really is a cross-commonwealth problem,” Wein added.