CITY HALL — As the number of Chicago Public Schools testing positive for unsafe levels of lead in water rose to 19, aldermen called Monday for public hearings on the matter.
"This is an issue we need to get right," said Ald. Christopher Taliaferro (29th) in a news conference at City Hall.
CPS announced Monday that four more schools had tested positive for unsafe levels of lead after Blair Elementary, the 15th school. Those included Chappell, Durkin Park and Gunsaulus, all of which had kitchen sinks that failed tests, as well as Wentworth, which had four drinking fountains fail.
Taliaferro is main sponsor of a resolution to be submitted at this month's City Council meeting calling for hearings. He said he demanded answers on how this happened, what CPS is doing to correct it and how the district intends to keep it from happening again.
"In 2016, it is outrageous that we must face the risk of putting our children in harm's way by sending them to school," Taliaferro said. "Lead shouldn't even be in our vocabulary in this day and age. We know how to get rid of lead. We know how to test for it. We know how to keep our kids safe from it. So that it is present in our schools must be unacceptable to us."
Chicago Teachers Union Secretary Michael Brunson joined in the call for hearings, emphasizing, "It does not take very much lead at all to damage a child for life." Union representative John Kugler said teachers had already filed a grievance with the district over lead concerns.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) sought to expand the testing, calling for "a comprehensive plan to address the issue of lead in the water in the City of Chicago."
The resolution was set for the Health Committee, with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) as chairman, but aldermen said they welcomed a joint meeting with the Education Committee and its chairman, Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st).
Taliaferro and Waguespack led the Council's Progressive Reform Caucus in calling for the hearings, joined Monday by Aldermen Toni Foulkes (16th) and David Moore (17th).
"I cannot imagine that any alderman would not be in support of hearings on this matter," Taliaferro said.
"CPS is committed to ensuring that our children’s drinking water in their schools is safe, which is why we voluntarily began a districtwide lead testing program," said spokeswoman Emily Bittner. "If City Council would like to hold hearings to learn more about the program, CPS officials would be happy to join the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Water Management to testify about our efforts to test the water of every school in the district for lead, as well as our plans to resolve issues where they are found."
After CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool previously said all schools would be tested for lead, starting with those built before new regulations took effect in 1986, Taliaferro called for all Chicago Public Schools to be tested as soon as possible, preferably before the end of the school year.
"We have a summer to get this right," Taliaferro said.
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