A school facilities director in Nashville, Tennessee, was caught on tape talking about ways to trick students and parents into thinking that unfiltered school water was actually being filtered to remove lead. Dennis Neal, the facilities director, is now on administrative leave from the school.
After the crisis in Flint, Michigan, schools across the country started implementing changes. In this Tennessee school, parents of students bought water stations and filters for the school to install. These filters are reportedly sitting in the school basement.
In the recording obtained by WTVF-TV, Neal complained about the cost of replacing the filters, saying that it could cost as much as “$8,000 a year.” He also talked about having someone “go through the exercise of bypassing the filter, just to see how that works.”
“I am concerned that people keep wanting these bottle fillers, but they are adamant about them being filtered. I’m saying we can’t, we can’t — we cannot support it. We cannot fund them.”
The talk then turned to how to trick students and parents into thinking that the filters were in place without having to pay for them.
“We’ve got to figure out what we are going to do with these hundred, or 97 filtered ones that we have out there,” Neal said, in the recording.
“Bust the light out….Take the light bulb out,” a woman suggested, referring to the indicator light on the side of the filter that would show when the filter needed to be changed.
“Well, that’s one thing. But we need to also probably, if we can, bypass the filter,” Neal said in response.
A school spokeswoman told CBS News that she was “deeply concerned” about the recording, but defended the school’s decision to not install the filters, arguing that they were ineffective at removing lower levels of lead and would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
A parent with two daughters at one of the schools voiced her outrage to WTVF: “It’s fraudulent. It’s basically trying to tell people, yeah, you’re drinking filtered water, we’re just going to bust this little light out so you think it’s filtered — but it’s really not.”
The Flint water crisis, which began in 2011, was the result of another attempted cost-saving measure. City officials decided to save money on water by pumping it from the Flint River instead of paying to bring it from Detroit. The result was widespread lead poisoning among school children and a national outcry.