Don’t Drink the Water

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When the public school authority in my city discovered that water in some of the school drinking fountains contained from 11 to 18 parts per billion of arsenic, they shut down all the drinking fountains in all the schools and promised to test them all and fix everyone

that needed it. The most common response, of course, was that they had no choice but to do this: the federal standard was 10 parts per billion, and in these schools the arsenic exceeded that standard.

No health problem among the students or staff prompted the test. It was made because water in some of the older schools showed rust, and while testing for iron oxide it was thought advisable to test for arsenic. That is how they found it.

Once they had discovered it, it would be difficult to imagine a public school board ignoring it. It was arsenic! And yet the other organizations in the city, including the newspapers and the radio and TV stations that raised the alarm about the public schools (but not the private ones), did not announce that they were testing their water. Nor did the public hospitals, the city jail, the state university test their water – at least, not that I know of. None of the restaurant chains announced that they had tested their water, and no private employer either. Did any of the parents who had denounced the public schools test the water in their homes? I bet not. Some buy bottled water, but many don’t.

That tells me that few people thought it was that dangerous. Yet everyone had to pretend it was.

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