Fixing the long-standing problem of lead contamination in Chicago schools

McClellan Elementary is the latest example of long-standing concerns about lead paint contamination, and lead in school drinking water, in CPS and other school districts.

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Lead paint was found in three classrooms at McClellan Elementary.

Lead paint was found in three classrooms at McClellan Elementary.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Whenever high levels of lead are found in places where children congregate, adults are rightly alarmed.

There is no safe blood level of lead in children, who can ingest the metal in paint chips or inhale it via dust from lead paint. And lead exposure at a young age can have serious, permanent health consequences, including brain and nervous system damage, learning and behavior problems and slowed growth and development.

So parents and teachers are angry, and rightly so, about high levels of lead detected in paint in three classrooms last week at McClellan Elementary School in Bridgeport, as the Sun-Times’ Brett Chase reported.

One of those classrooms is for children with special needs, which makes it even more worrisome that they may have suffered from lead exposure.



On Monday, teachers and parents held a press conference and accused Chicago Public Schools of ignoring a problem that was first discovered back in October. They demanded, among other steps, that CPS test the blood of teachers and students for lead.

Let’s put some context here: Concerns about lead paint contamination, and lead in school drinking water as well, are not new to CPS or to other school districts across the country that have aging school buildings with lead paint and lead water lines. (The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes funding to replace lead water lines in schools.)

As just two examples: In 2016, dangerous lead levels were found in the drinking water of a number of Chicago schools, and in 2014, parents accused the district of ignoring for years lead paint contamination at a Rogers Park school.

CPS says McClellan’s lead problem was not addressed sooner because of communication “mixups” that are being addressed — and that’s a must. Children shouldn’t remain at risk for dangerous lead exposure because of bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, over the winter break, paint testing and any remaining remediation work — two of the three affected McClellan classrooms have since been reopened — will take place. And parents can and should take advantage of opportunities, outlined in a CPS newsletter, about where to get their child’s blood tested for lead.

In addition, over the winter break, lead paint testing will also take place in other Chicago schools, a spokesperson told us.

All of these are steps in the right direction. CPS must keep being aggressive about tackling this long-standing problem — and building trust with parents in the process.

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