Elevated levels of lead in drinking water continue to plague K-12 schools

Districts and parents must take proactive measures to protect students
By: | August 27, 2019
gettyimages.com: stacey_newman

Elevated levels of lead continue to be found in schools across the U.S., requiring district administrators to take action to provide clean drinking water for students.

More than 40% of K-12 districts in the U.S. have recently tested for lead in drinking water, with 37% reporting elevated levels and taking corrective action, according to a 2018 survey from the U.S. Government Accountability Office

Dangerous levels of lead have recently been discovered in school water sources in University Park, Illinois, and Knox County, Tennessee. Families there have been alerted to the test results and the district plans to address the issue, which include shutting off school water fountains and taking other protective measures. Public schools in Newark, New Jersey, and New York City, among other districts, also continue to struggle with reducing lead contamination. 

According to NBC Charlotte in North Carolina, administrators at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recently announced that they have finished testing water at all schools built before 1986. Previously, the district had done some voluntary testing, but had not informed families of the results. North Carolina does not have a state law mandating that school districts test for lead, and other districts in the state have not tested at all.

The National Resources Defense Council recommends that in addition to the actions district leaders take, parents be proactive by taking steps such as inquiring about testing, raising general awareness and providing children with bottles of filtered water.

Many district leaders have been proactive in ensuring that students have clean, safe drinking water, according to a report last year in DA.

Read: Districts nationwide address elevated lead levels in school water

Maryland is one of eight states requiring schools to test for lead. Montgomery County Public Schools tested some 13,300 water fixtures in its 206 schools, including drinking fountains, water coolers and classroom sinks.

The district found 238 had elevated lead levels, representing 1.8% of the total, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman told DA. “Ultimately, we can’t compromise on student safety,” Zuckerman said. “We have to find ways to reallocate precious dollars.” The district has since made repairs at a cost of $500,000.

Rather than replumbing entire schools or providing bottled water for students and staff, district leaders may want to consider more cost-effective solutions such as creating central water stations, DA reported. 

Ultimately, administrators should develop a comprehensive, transparent plan for water testing and communicating results.