6 actions district leaders should promote to keep lead out of drinking water

Nearly half the schools in a dozen states from which data is available discovered lead in their drinking water
By: | November 8, 2021
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Most states help schools test drinking water for lead but inconsistent decontamination efforts may be putting children at risk, a new report finds.

Nearly half the schools in a dozen states from which data is available discovered lead in their drinking water, according to a 2018 study.

Lead can leach into drinking water from pipes, fixtures and plumbing materials that contain lead, which is harmful in any amount, according to the report “How States Are Handling Lead in School Drinking Water,” by the National Association of State Boards of Education.

“Much of children’s daily water intake comes from school water fountains,” authors Caroline Pakenham and Bethany Olson write. “There is no safe level of lead in blood in children. Even at low levels, lead exposure can cause learning challenges and behavior and attention problems.”

The report found:

  • 23 states have voluntary lead testing for schools while testing is mandatory in 18 states
  • Of the states with testing requirements,13 require mitigation if lead is found in drinking water.
  • Only 15 states offer financial support for mitigating sources of lead in water.
  • Most states with a recommended or required action level use 15 parts per billion or above as the suggested level to trigger mitigation efforts.

The report says that the matter is almost certainly more urgent for schools in underserved areas that have suffered years of disin­vestment in infrastructure.

Two models, Vermont and Washington, D.C., have developed data-tracking systems that make lead testing results more accessible to the public to spur mitigation efforts.


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Vermont also covers most of the costs to replace water fixtures while New Hampshire and California provide grants to assist schools with mitigation costs and improve water quality, the report says.

The authors focus on what state boards of education can do to address the problem, which means superintendents, principals and other administrators may want to raise their concerns with these officials.

Here are several concepts district leaders can support in encouraging state boards to push for effective and equitable lead testing:

  1. Consult with state and regional experts on current testing and mitigation strategies.
  2. Advocate for data-based decision-making at the state and local levels.
  3. Advocate for clear, consistent and comprehensive regulations.
  4. Build awareness of the impact of lead exposure and the need for lead in water-testing and mitigation.
  5. Share responsibility and data between agencies.
  6. Provide training for the appropriate school personnel on how to test and mitigate.