(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Houston ISD will soon install filtered water bottle filling stations and increase testing of school water in an effort to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in students.

Currently, one-third of schools throughout the district already have filtered stations installed, according to Alishia Jolivette-Webber, the officer of facilities, maintenance and operations for HISD. She added that installations at other HISD schools would begin Spring 2023.

“We want to make sure that we’re building safe schools, safer learning environments, and keeping all of our students and staff safe,” she said.

Loren Hopkins, the Houston Health Department’s chief environmental science officer, said that lead poisoning could result in the development of learning disabilities and in severe cases, lead to anemia, kidney damage, convulsions, or death.

Hopkins added that low-income communities were eight times more likely to suffer from lead poisoning when compared to moderate or upper-income neighborhoods and that communities of color were five times more likely to suffer from lead poisoning than their white counterparts.

“Childhood lead poisoning is a major environmental health problem in the United States that is completely preventable,” Hopkins said. “It’s an environmental justice problem.”

As of Wednesday, there were more than 500 cases of pediatric lead poisoning in Houston, according to Hopkins.

In a report released in January, TexPIRG Education Fund, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center and the Coalition of Community Organizations (COCO) examined over 250 individual school testing reports, which were created using samples from water fountains and kitchens in HISD schools. These reports can be found on HISD’s website.

That report found that lead was detected in at least one water tap at 84% of schools tested, with “some showing as high as 44 out of 50 sources with contamination,” according to Michael Lewis, a clean air and water advocate with Environment Texas.

Lewis added that the report offered several solutions, including:

  • the installation of filtered water stations;
  • an increase to annual testing of all water outlets used for drinking or cooking;
  • posting testing results results online for parents;
  • a publicized remediation plan.

“After that report, we saw increased concern from HISD administrators,” Lewis said. “We’re looking forward to continue working with HISD as they begin this project and make our schools safer for our children.”

In addition to the filtered water stations, Jolivette-Webber with HISD added that the district was partnering with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to conduct additional water testing.

“Our students deserve more than the best,” she said. “Where we’re partnering together and making sure, by whatever means necessary, we’re gonna get it done.”