How to Test School Drinking Water for Lead

How to Test School Drinking Water for Lead

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, many of the country’s public school systems have begun testing their own water for lead, either because of new state regulations requiring them to do so, or simply to be proactive. With elevated levels of lead already found in public schools across the country, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland, you may be wondering what you can do to test your own school’s water for elevated lead.

 

 

Here we’ve covered five ways that you can test your school’s drinking water for lead.

—01

Find A Lab Certified by the Department of Environmental Protection

If a lab is certified by the Department of Environmental Protection, then you know your water will be accurately tested. The Department of Environmental Protection is supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Step 1:  Go to this EPA webpage. Choose your state and you will be directed to a list of DEP-certified labs in your state.

You can also call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791. If you call this number, they can give you a list of DEP-certified labs near you.

Step 2: Get your sample collection kits. Be sure to contact your water supplier first. Some states, such as Maine, have programs in place to give schools a portion of water sample kits for free. By contacting your city’s water department, you can avoid spending extra money on something for which the state has already allocated funds.

Ensure you receive the adequate number of kits. You will need to take a sample from every water source that could potentially be used for drinking water. This includes all water fountains, any faucets in classrooms, and any faucets in kitchens used to prepare food.

Step 3: Collect your sample pre-flush. This means take the sample after water has been stagnant in the pipes for at least eight hours. You may need to go into the building on a day that school is closed, or take the sample early in the morning, before school opens. This pre-flush sample will determine if the pipes in the building are made of lead.

Some labs will ask for a second sampling. After all of your pre-flush samples are taken, go back to each water source and take a second sample. This sample will reveal if there is any lead in the header pipe. The header pipe is underground, sometimes referred to as the pipe at “street level”. This is the pipe that would connect the school’s plumbing system to the municipal water line.

Taking all of these samples might be difficult for only one or two people to execute. It may be worthwhile to make this a class activity or connect with the Environmental Club, if your school has one.

Step 4: Drop off or mail your samples to the lab. If you live in a state that provides free sample kits to schools, these will often come with prepaid postage.

Step 5: Wait for your results. Most labs will send the results by mail, but some will email the results upon request. Because of the large quantity of samples needed to be taken, it will usually take a few weeks for labs to complete the testing. In the state of Illinois, for example, it can take a month or longer.

Step 6: Inform parents of the results. This is especially true if any of the water sources are found to have elevated levels of lead. Parents must be kept in the loop.

Step 7: Shut-down any water sources found to have elevated lead levels, If a water source has levels of lead higher than 15 parts per billion, tape up the faucet or drinking water spout so that it is not accessible, and place clear signage on the fixture, indicating that it is not safe for consumption.

If elevated levels are found in bathroom faucets or utility sinks, these are safe to use for hand washing, but place clear signage so that it is never used for drinking water. Signage should read something like “Water Safe for Hand Washing Only. Do Not Drink!”

 

Pros: Peace of Mind

You know you can trust the results of a DEP-certified lab. You will receive a full lab analysis reporting exactly what is in your water. It will detail the lead elevation in parts per billion or milligrams per liter.

 

Cons: Turnaround time, Inconvenience, and Cost.

Both collecting the samples and waiting for the samples to come back from the lab are time-consuming processes. Depending on the size of your school, it could take quite awhile to take a sample from every drinking water fountain, classroom faucet, and kitchen faucet. It will be even more time-consuming, if you decide to also test bathroom faucets and other fixtures not generally used for drinking water. Once samples are collected, some labs have a mail-in option but many do not. Depending on what state you are in, you could find yourself having to go out of your way to drive to the lab to get the sterile sample containers and then driving back to the lab to drop the samples off. Lab fees can vary but range from $12-$80 but, as mentioned earlier, some states cover these fees entirely while others provide subsidies. Contact your water supplier or your state’s public works department to find out if you qualify for assistance.

—02

Buy an Instant Water Test Kit

You can buy an instant lead water test kit at Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, or many other home improvement retailers. Test kits can also be purchased from online retailers, such as Amazon or Ebay. There are many different at-home test kits to choose from. FirstAlert, H20 Okay, Abotex, and WaterSafe are just a few of the many brands.

Step 1: Purchase a test kit at a local home improvement store, or order one from an online retailer.

Step 2: Collect the sample, following the same instructions as if you were sending the water away to a lab. Take the sample only after the water has been stagnant in the pipes for at least eight hours. Take samples from every source that has the potential to be used for drinking or cooking.

The second sample, taken after the water has been running for a couple minutes, will test for lead in the building’s header pipe.

Step 3: Place the lead test strip into the water. Many of these kits come with a variety of strips to test for different contaminants, so make sure you are using the strip designated to test for lead.

Step 4: Wait the recommended time frame and then check the strip. Many kits have very short time frames. FirstAlert will give the consumer results within just ten minutes. These tests read “positive” or “negative”. If it reads negative, that doesn’t mean the water is completely lead-free. It only means that it doesn’t have more than 15 parts per billion, and therefore any hypothetical lead content is not high enough to register on the test.

 

Pros: Instant Results and Easy to Use.

With an instant test kit, you will have results in your hand in minutes.

The kits are very easy to use. All you have to do is place the test strip into the water sample and wait for results to appear.

 

Cons: No Lab Report Showing Parts Per Billion

The test kits will only read positive or negative. You won’t receive a detailed lab report, as you would if going through a DEP-certified lab. Subsequently, even if your results come back negative, you have no way to know for certain whether or not lead is present.

—03

Test Your Water Through a Water Filtration Company

There are many water filtration companies that will perform a water quality test for you. Kinetico, Ecowater, and RainSoft are just a couple of names in the industry.

Step 1: Contact a water-filtration company for a water quality test. You can search the internet for companies near you, or visit your local Lowes or Home Depot to have them connect you with one of their service providers.

Step 2: Schedule a date for the test to take place. You can either contact a retailer and have them help you with the scheduling process, or you can go directly to the water filtration company’s website and submit a request for a water quality test.

If you decided to go through a retailer, such as Home Depot or Lowes, the easiest way to set an appointment is to go to the retailer’s website. Both of these big box stores have very similar formats. Go to either HomeDepot.com or Lowes.com and then to “Home Services” or “Installation Services”. Choose “Water Softener Systems”. You will then be provided with instructions on how to schedule a water quality test. You also have the option to call the retailer’s “Installation Services” customer support line.

Call Home Depot Installation Services at 1-877-417-8223.

Call Lowes Installation Services at 1-877-465-6937.

You could also choose to go directly through the distributor. Go to the Kinetico or Ecowater website, or search “water filtration companies” and enter the city or town where you live.

Step 3: Once you have your results, you can speak with a sales representative about the options for a filtration system.

 

Pros: Solutions Readily Available

If there is a problem found with your water, you have the solution right in front of you. This is important because if lead is found in the school’s water, you’re going to want to have a solution to offer parents and staff. These companies all supply water filtration systems to reduce the amount of lead and other contaminants in a water source.

 

Cons: Sales Pitches

These companies have a product to sell. After receiving a water quality test, you will be expected to listen to the services and solutions they have to offer.

—04

Have Your Water Tested by Your Local Water Supplier

Because of recent issues in Flint and the increased awareness surrounding public water quality, many states now have programs in place to test school’s water for free. You may not know about these programs until you reach out to your water supplier. For example, in the state of California, schools are eligible to have their water tested for free but they have to submit a written request whereafter their water supplier must perform tests for lead within three months.

Step 1: To find the contact information for your water supplier, visit the website for your local government and look under “Public Works” or “Water and Sewage”.

Step 2: When you contact the water supplier, make sure to tell them you are calling on behalf of a school, and ask if there are any programs in place to assist you with testing your water or if free water testing is something offered to schools in your state.

 

Pros: Peace of Mind, Free, and Convenient

Municipal water suppliers are held to EPA standards. This is the most trustworthy option. If this is an option that your supplier provides, testing will be free.

This testing option will not be labor-intensive, as the water supplier will be responsible for the tests.

 

Cons: Not Always an Option

This is not an option in all states and will therefore depend on where your school is located.

—05

Finding Grants and Funding

There are lots of grants and funding options available to assist public schools in testing their water. The Safe Drinking Water Act was amended in 2015 to make even more funds available to communities. There are a few ways to go about finding a grant to assist you with testing your school’s water.

Step 1: Start your search by checking out this EPA resource; https://www.epa.gov/grants. This site has a lot of information about how to go about applying for grants. It also includes several links to assist you in your search. If you get stuck, you can always contact the EPA directly via their website.

Step 2: To search available grants, go to http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/home.html. About Halfway down the page, under “Find Grant Opportunities” choose the tab that says “Browse Categories”. Most of the grants available for the testing of school’s water, will be found under the category “Natural Resources”.Then search using the terms “water” or “water and schools”. This will bring up a list of available grants. You then just need to search through these to find one that is applicable to you. It may be necessary to apply additional filters to your search. You can do this by choosing from parameters, listed on the left-hand side of the screen.

Step 3: You can also go directly through your state or local government. As mentioned earlier in this article, you would do this by going to the website of your local government and looking under either “Public Works” or “Water and Sewage”. Find the contact information for the department to send them an email or give them a call. Ask what grants or assistance are available to help you test your school’s water for lead.

Lead is an anxiety-inducing issue and schools around the country have been finding elevated levels of lead, potentially putting their students at risk. Fortunately there are many resources available to you to help effectively navigate through the situation. One of the resources you have is us here at Because Water. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions. And for more information on issues relating to water, consider joining our newsletter or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

5 Ways to Test your Tap for Lead

5 Ways to Test your Tap for Lead

Is there lead in your tap water? Given the many health repercussions of lead-contaminated water, this can be a frightening question to encounter. The good news is that there are several options for determining the answer.

 

Here we’ve covered five ways that you can test your tap water for lead.

 

—01

Find A Lab Certified by the Department of Environmental Protection

One way to test your home’s water for lead, is to find a testing lab certified by your state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP runs at the state level, while the EPA runs at federal level.*

Step 1:  Find a DEP-Certified lab near you by going to this EPA webpage. Simply choose your state from the drop-down menu, and you will then be directed to a list of DEP-certified labs in your state.

You can also find a lab by phone. Just call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

Step 2: Pick up a sample container or request that the lab mail it to you.

You may be able to skip this step. Some labs allow you to use your own container while others will specify the size or simply advise you to use a clean, plastic bottle.

Step 3: See if your lab has any specific instructions on how the sample needs to be taken. Some labs can provide you with detailed instructions. Ask your lab if they can provide you with an informational pamphlet or email you instructions.

Step 4: Collect your sample first thing in the morning. In order to get an accurate reading of lead levels, the water in your pipes needs to have been stagnant for at least six hours. That means no running faucets, showers, or flushing the toilet for at least six hours beforehand. This will reveal if the pipes inside of your home are made from lead.

Some labs will ask for a second sample to be taken after the first pre-flush sample. This should be taken after the water has been running for a few minutes. This sample will reveal if there is lead in your home’s header pipe. The header pipe is underground, sometimes referred to as the pipe at “street level”. This pipe connects the home’s plumbing system to the municipal service line. Ensuring that the header pipe is not made from lead is the homeowner’s responsibility, as it is owned by the homeowner.

Step 5: Drop off your sample or mail it to the lab.

Step 6: Wait for your results. Most labs will send the results by mail, but some will email the results upon request. The results will either be given in parts per billion or milligrams per liter.

Pros: Peace of Mind

If you go this route, you’ll have the peace of mind of a full-lab report detailing exactly what is in your water. It won’t just tell you whether or not lead is present; It will tell you how much is present. This is important, because while the EPA requires all municipal drinking water to have lead levels of less than 15 parts per billion, there is no amount of lead that is entirely safe. Lead accumulates in the body, making even small amounts dangerous over time. You will also have the assurance of knowing that the results you received are accurate. The Department of Environmental Protection operates at a state level under the supervision of the EPA. If a lab is DEP-certified then you can trust that the testing procedures meet EPA standards.

Cons: Turnaround time, Inconvenience, and Cost.

Some of these labs have a quicker turnaround time than others. Some will have the results in a few days, but others could have you waiting weeks for answers. It really depends on the lab and the volume of business that they do.

Some labs have a mail-in option for samples, but many do not. Depending on what state you are in, you could find yourself having to go out of your way to drive to the lab in order to get the sterile sample container and then traveling back to the lab to drop the sample off. Lab fees vary. They range from $12-$80. So, depending on your state this could be one of the more expensive options.

—02

Buy an Instant Home Test Kit

You can buy an instant lead water test kit at Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, or many other home improvement retailers. Test kits can also be purchased from online retailers, such as Amazon or Ebay. There are many different at-home test kits to choose from. FirstAlert, H20 Okay, Abotex, and WaterSafe are just a few of the many brands available.

Step 1: Purchase a test kit at a local home improvement store, or order one from an online retailer.

Step 2: Collect a sample from your tap in the morning. Make sure to take a sample after the water has been stagnant in the pipes for at least six hours. Don’t run any faucets, showers, or flush the toilet before taking the sample. This is the sample that will show if there are any lead pipes inside of your home.

Collect a second sample after the water has been running for about two minutes, after the first sample has been collected. This sample that will show if your header pipe is constructed of lead.

Step 3: Place the lead test strip into the water. Many of these kits come with a variety of strips to test for different contaminants, so ensure that you are using the strip designated to test for lead.

Step 4: Following the instructions on the test kit, wait the recommended time frame, and then check the strip. Many kits have short time frames. FirstAlert will give the consumer results within just ten minutes.

Pros: Instant Results, Affordable, and Easy to Use.

With an at-home test kit, the consumer will have results in their hand in minutes.

At-home test kits are very affordable, ranging in price from $12-$25.

The kits are very easy to use, as it only requires taking a water sample and then placing the test strip into the water.

Cons: No Lab Report Showing Parts Per Billion

The test kits will only read positive or negative. Many are testing to EPA-standards, meaning that they are testing to 15 parts per billion. But this means that if the water contains less than 15 parts per billion, the test will read as “negative” for lead, when it may actually contain some lead.

—03

Have Your Water Tested by a Water Filtration Company

There are many water filtration companies that will test your home’s water for free. Kinetico, Ecowater, and RainSoft are just a couple of names in the industry.

Step 1: Contact a water-filtration company, for a free water quality test. You can search the internet for companies near you, or visit your local Lowes or Home Depot, and have them connect you with one of their service providers.

Step 2: Schedule a date for the test to take place. You can do this one of three ways. You can go through a retailer, call the water filtration supplier directly, or fill out a form on their company website.

 

If you decided to go through a retailer, such as Home Depot or Lowes, the most straightforward way to set an appointment is to go to the retailer’s website. Both of these big box stores have nearly identical formats. Go to either HomeDepot.com or Lowes.com. Go to “Home Services” or “Installation Services”. Choose “Water Softener Systems”. You will then be directed to instructions on how to schedule your free water test and home consultation.

Both retailers also have Home Services customer service lines that you can call to make an appointment.

Call Home Depot Installation Services at 1-877-417-8223.

Call Lowes Installation Services at 1-877-465-6937.

You could also choose to go directly through the distributor. Go to the Kinetico or Ecowater website, or search “water filtration companies” and enter your city or town.

Most of these company websites have a link that says “Schedule Your Free Water Test” or “Get Your Free Water Test”. You then just enter your information and wait for a representative to call you.

Step 3: Once you have your results, you can speak with a sales representative about the options for home water-filtration.

Pros: Solutions Readily Available and Free Water Quality Test

If there is a problem found with your water, you have the solution right in front of you. The same people that test the water can also sell you a water-filtration system, making it the only lead-testing option that comes with a built-in solution.

Additionally, the testing is free. If there is no problem with your water quality, and lead levels are under 15 parts per billion, then you haven’t wasted any money.

Cons: Sales Pitches

The reason these companies are agreeing to test your water for free is because they have a product to sell. After receiving a free water test, you are expected to listen to the solutions they have to offer.

—04

Have Your Water Tested by Your Local Water Supplier

Contact your water supplier and ask if they offer water testing. Some cities will come and test your home’s water for free.

Step 1: Find the contact information for your water supplier by visiting the website of your city government. Try looking under “Public Works” or “Water and Sewage”.

Step 2: Call or email your water supplier and tell them you are looking to have your tap water tested for lead.

Pros: Peace of Mind and Affordability

You can be assured that the test will be accurate if tested by the water supplier. Municipal water suppliers are held to EPA standards and water supplied must be less than 15 parts per billion.

If this is an option that your supplier provides, testing will often be free.

Cons: Time Consuming and Not Always an Option

Dealing with local government can be a time-consuming process. Websites can be difficult to navigate and it may be unclear who you should call for assistance. Waiting for responses via email may take quite a bit of time and even after putting in all of that effort, you may find this isn’t a service offered by your water supplier.

—05

Self-Diagnose Your Pipes

One way to start looking for answers is to check your pipes to see if they are made of lead. There are two types of pipes to check; the pipes inside the home and the header pipe. If the pipes are made of plastic or copper, you can tell by doing a visual inspection. But if the pipes are a black or gray color, then they could be either lead or galvanized steel.

Step 1: Start with the pipes in your home. Take a key or a coin and scratch the surface of the pipe. If a white line appears on the surface of the pipe, then it is lead. If there is no scratch, the pipe is made of galvanized steel.

Step 2: To check the header pipe, start by calling your water supplier. Go to your local government’s website and then to the page for their Water and Sewage department in order to find the proper contact information. The department should be able to find records for your home’s header pipe.

Pros: Free, Easy, and Results Are Immediate

If you’re worried about lead potentially affecting your family’s health, you may not want to wait to find a lab or a test kit. If you want results right away, this is the best option. A white scratch either will, or won’t, appear on the pipe, providing you with a clear and immediate answer.

This option is free and very easy to conduct. If you’re still unsure how to perform this option, there are several video tutorials available on Youtube.

Cons: Inconclusive

Testing with a coin or a key will give instant results, but that doesn’t test the quality of the water itself. It only ensures that the pipes inside of the home are not made from lead.

The header pipe underground can not be tested with the key test. To check the header pipe itself, you may need to call your water supplier.

This testing method will only ensure that your home’s pipes are or are not made of lead. Because of which, this method doesn’t rule out the possibility of lead entering the water before it enters your home’s plumbing system.

In summary, don’t panic just yet. You have many resources available to you and a number of different, and credible, ways you can test your home’s water quality. Once you have your results, there are a broad array of solutions available to you as well. Take charge of your family’s health and test your water today!

 

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Lead in Water: What You Need to Know

Lead in Water: What You Need to Know

7

July, 2017

Lead-contaminated water became a national crisis last year in Flint, Michigan. Families living in the town could not even drink the water in their homes and many faced serious health problems from months of lead exposure.

No amount of lead is safe to consume, and several of the problems in Flint are also affecting other areas across the U.S.

For many Americans, the situation in Flint has not only disturbed them but also prompted the question: “If lead is in Flint’s water, could it also be in mine?”

How can lead get in my water?

Lead can enter water (“leach”) when water flows through plumbing containing lead. Over time, water dissolves or breaks down (“corrodes”) the metals of the plumbing. Water can be more or less corrosive depending on its pH and mineral content. Water warmth, the length of time that water lingers in pipes between tap uses, and pipe age also affect the amount of lead that accumulates.

The severe lead contamination in Flint, Michigan happened due to extremely corrosive water from Flint River. Left untreated, the water corroded aging lead pipes throughout the city. The situation was rare, but towns across the country share some of Flint’s challenges.

Lead entering water from public pipes is unusual because utilities are required to control water chemistry. However, lead can also enter your water from pipes in your home. Homes built before 1986 are most apt to contain some lead in their plumbing. Common sources of lead are faucets, interior pipes, the solder connecting pipes, and service lines. Service lines are the pipes that connect homes to the main water pipes in the street.

How can I tell if there’s lead in my water?

You can’t see, taste, or smell lead in water. Testing it is the only way to find out if there is lead present in your water.

You can ask your local and state drinking water authorities about certified laboratories. Some states offer free home testing programs. Laboratories sometimes provide testing kits, or you can buy a kit at many hardware stores. Testing can cost between about $20-80.

What are the signs that I have lead in my body?

Lead can impact almost every organ in the body, with symptoms ranging from effect on appetite to brain function. In the most severe cases, there can be neurological damage and even death in both children and adults. Even if symptoms are difficult to identify, lead is dangerous to consume.

In children, lead can create: developmental delays, trouble learning, and even long-term lowered IQ. Other symptoms may include decreased hearing and balance, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation, seizures, and pica (eating things that aren’t food). Lead has also been linked to autism in children.

In adults, symptoms may include: mood disorders, difficulties with memory or concentration, headaches, abdominal pain, high blood pressure, or joint and muscle pain. For men, it can cause reduced sperm count or abnormal sperm. For pregnant women, lead can prompt miscarriages, stillbirth or premature birth.

If you’re concerned about lead poisoning, you can get a physical exam and blood test from a physician. This is mandatory for children from 1-2 years old and is useful for adults who believe they may be at risk.

Your doctor can give you information about treatment for lead poisoning symptoms. Some oral treatments are available, but none can reverse the cognitive impairments.

You can’t see, taste, or smell lead in water.

Aren’t there laws that prevent lead in drinking water?

Yes, but they do not guarantee that there is no lead in school water. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires utilities to test some taps in each water system, which can include schools.

There is no federal law specifically requiring testing of drinking water in schools that receive water from public water systems ., This means that about 90% of schools may be used as a sampling location (i.e., tap) for a public water system’s lead testing required under SDWA, but there are no federal requirements for more extensive testing. Schools that do have their own water supplies are subject to more thorough regulation and sampling.

States and towns/cities may also establish their own programs for testing drinking water lead levels in schools. Several, including Illinois and New Jersey, have implemented state-wide testing since Flint, Michigan’s crisis began. In Seattle, all schools must be tested every three years. Meanwhile, certain school districts, such as Newton Public Schools in Massachusetts, discover lead as a result of their own testing programs.

Massachusetts is one state that must improve its testing standards. Each public water system must include samples from at least two schools or early education care centers per district in their testing. Depending on system water quality, these samples may be taken as infrequently as every three years. There can be several sampling periods between tests at each school. This has allowed lead to enter schools’ water unnoticed, as evidenced by the state’s 2016 testing assistance program.

Who is at highest risk from lead in drinking water?

People with houses built before 1986 are most likely to be exposed to lead in water.

Infants and young children are at high risk because they absorb lead more easily than adults and therefore can experience serious long-term effects.

Pregnant women can also experience serious effects of lead. As mentioned above, miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births are all possible results of lead exposure.

How can I be safer if lead is in my water? Is it safe to take showers?

First, you can make the water from your taps safer. Run your taps for several minutes before using them each time. This flushes out water that has sat still in pipes and collected lead. Run only cold water through your tap, and only drink or cook with water that comes out of the tap cold. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can contain much higher levels of lead.

CAUTION: Do not boil tap water. Boiling water will actually increase the lead concentration as liquid water becomes steam.

If lead levels are very high, you can reduce your exposure by drinking only bottled or filtered water. If you buy a filter, make sure that it is certified by an independent testing organization, such as the National Sanitation Foundation.

Showering and washing hands in water containing lead are generally considered safe. This is because lead cannot enter your body through skin.

Who can I talk to if I have lead in my water?

If your home has high lead levels or if a blood test confirms that you have lead poisoning, call your local and state health and water departments.

You can also contact the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 to report information and ask questions.

How much of a problem is lead in drinking water in the U.S.?

Lead in drinking water is a widespread problem in homes, businesses, and schools. There were over 5,300 water systems across the U.S. in 2015 with lead levels above EPA standards. This exposes 18 million Americans to contaminated water. Reports show that over 1,000 of these water systems did not notify the public about the problem. At least 600 had lead levels of 40+ppb, more than double EPA standards.

There are likely many more lead violations than the data shows. Utilities may use test methods, like pre-flushing taps, that alter the accuracy of test results. Also, violations are not always reported to the EPA. Surprisingly, even Flint is not included in the EPA’s database of violations.

Lack of enforcement allows this to continue. Out of over 8,000 violations in 2015, 88.8% went free from any formal enforcement action by states or the EPA. Penalties were not sought or assessed for 97% of violations. The case in Flint was so severe that several city officials were criminally charged, the regional EPA director stepped down, and more than 450 lawsuits were filed, but Flint remains an outlier.

Where can I get more information?

  1. Centers for Disease Control Lead Information
  2. US Environmental Protection Agency Lead Information
  3. The US EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791)
  4. Your city/town and state health and water departments

 

Events in Flint, Michigan showed how important it is to be aware of what is in your water. Investigating your home and surroundings is crucial for health and safety. There are concrete steps that you can take to reduce your risk.

The best way to be in control of your water safety is to stay informed. See the resources above, learn how to test your own water for lead (JEN), and stay on top of the latest water issues by joining our newsletter.

 

Sources

NPR, April 2016. “Lead-Laced Water In Flint: A Step-By-Step Look At The Makings Of A Crisis.”

US EPA, National Service Center for Environmental Publications, 1989. “Lead Ban: Preventing the Use of Lead in Public Water Systems and Plumbing Used for Drinking Water.”

US EPA. “Basic Information About Lead in Drinking Water.”

USA TODAY, March 2016. “Got lead in your water? It’s not easy to find out.”

Water Research Center. “Special Report #3: Lead In Drinking Water – Is There Lead In My Drinking Water?”

Mayo Clinic. “Lead Poisoning Symptoms and Causes.”

Pediatrics Journal, October 2005. “Lead Exposure in Children: Prevention, Detection, and Management.”

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, August 2007. “PUBLIC HEALTH STATEMENT: Lead.”

US EPA. “Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems: Lead and Copper Rule.”

US EPA. “Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR).”

US Government Publishing Office, June 1991. “Title 40: Protection of Environment; Part 141: National Primary Drinking Water Regulations; Subpart 1: Control of Lead and Copper.”

USA TODAY, March 2016. “Beyond Flint: Excessive lead levels found in almost 2,000 water systems across all 50 states.”

Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. “What You Need to Know About Lead In Tap Water.”

CNN, June 2016. “5,300 U.S. water systems are iUS authorities distorting tests to downplay lead content of watern violation of lead rules.”

Natural Resources Defense Council, June 2016. “Report: What’s in Your Water? Flint and Beyond Analysis of EPA Data Reveals Widespread Lead Crisis Potentially Affecting Millions of Americans.”

The Guardian, January 2016. “US authorities distorting tests to downplay lead content of water.”

US EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, December 2009. “Memorandum: Drinking Water Enforcement Response Policy.”

CNN, March 2016. “Flint water crisis lawsuits: 5 things to know.”

Lead in School Drinking Water: A Case Study of Newton, MA

Lead in School Drinking Water: A Case Study of Newton, MA

Photo courtesy of Newton Public Schools

1

May, 2017

Following the Flint, Michigan water crisis, schools across the U.S. are hurrying to find out whether their water is safe to drink.

Quite shockingly, many tests in schools are showing unsafe levels of lead, proving that drinking water quality is a serious and neglected problem throughout the country.

Schools are at particular risk for lead in water because of both their old infrastructure and young demographics. Buildings constructed before 1986 are most likely to contain lead, though those built before 2014 are also at risk. Therefore, lead is an issue for most schools. To make things worse, lead is extremely dangerous for children, harming the way they learn, develop, and behave.

Newton, Massachusetts is an affluent city just west of Boston that found out just how real these risks are.

Michael Grubb, father of two in Newton, found out about lead contamination at his children’s elementary school and took action, “It interrupted my work day and jumped to the top of my agenda for my return home. I felt it was crucial to get involved because I didn’t want my kids or any others in the district harmed by the water they drink at school,” he said.

The Shocking Discovery

Like many administrations in early 2016, Newton hoped to show that its schools were safe. Mayor, Setti Warren, proactively decided to increase the town’s normal school testing program. Instead of testing two fixtures at two schools that year, two water fixtures in every public school were tested. He was surprised at what the tests revealed.

A water fountain at Burr Elementary had lead levels at 26.6 parts per billion (ppb), far above the EPA’s “action level” of 15 ppb.

Newton, a town that had never before reported lead levels, had toxic water.

Troubled Waters

The school administration knew that it needed to find out whether there was more lead. Newton hired an independent company to test all water fountains.

Alarmingly, all of Burr’s drinking fountains showed lead concentrations above 15 ppb. Some of the levels were much higher. One drinking fountain tested at 218 parts per billion (ppb), over 14 times the EPA standard. Samples from pipes leading to the fountains showed even more dangerous levels. The schools rushed to shut off water to all seven drinking fountains and provided water via dispensers.

They had difficulty finding the source of lead contamination at Burr. The school searched, but didn’t find lead pipes. Water fixtures, another common culprit, were not the cause. Testing continued.

Superintendent Fleishman was increasingly concerned and under pressure. He promised on June 24th that the city would keep looking. Testing would cover all fountains and other drinking water sources at all of the other Newton public schools. That summer, 264 fixtures in all 23 school buildings were tested.

By August, testing revealed lead levels above the EPA action level at 13 out of 23 schools.

In addition to Burr, six water fountains at five schools tested above the action level. Low levels of lead (below the action level) were present in almost every school as well as in drinking fountains and other water sources (see results here).

Even Newton North High School had high lead levels, which was cause for surprise. The school is a new building finished in 2010 at $197 million, making it Massachusetts’ most expensive school building project.

The seriousness was clear. In total, 7,500 students were enrolled in lead-contaminated buildings.

Photo courtesy of Newton Public Schools

All in This Together

Alarms sounded throughout the community as soon as the Burr results were made public on May 17. Local and Boston-area news outlets broke the story. They broadcasted the seriousness of Newton’s lead problem, potential harm to children’s health, and inadequacy of testing regulations. All eyes were on Newton.

Soon after, concerned parents with children at Burr Elementary mobilized into a committee. Michael Grubb was one of the parents who investigated historical records, researched best practices, and communicated with the school.

He and the others found that high lead results had been at Burr in the past, contradicting statements made by the school administration. In 2010, a sink showed lead levels of 60.2 ppb. “That really got me annoyed,” said Grubb. On June 1, parents wrote a letter to Newton Mayor Warren and Superintendent David Fleishman pressing for fast, comprehensive, and transparent action.

The schools responded to the community’s anxiety and held a public meeting on June 13th. Health experts, including a Boston Children’s Hospital lead exposure expert, town officials, and public buildings staff attended to answer questions and provide clarity. From then on, the schools communicated with the parent liaisons and met with them regularly. They also continued to update the larger community with letters from Burr principal Mindy Johal, Superintendent Fleishman, and Mayor Warren.

The engaged community continued to grow as well. Over the next months, the committee of Burr Elementary parents welcomed parents from other schools. Their mailing list expanded to over 60 members. As they grew in numbers, the parents gained influence as well.

One drinking fountain tested at 218 parts per billion (ppb), over 14 times the EPA standard.

Removing the Lead

The next months were tricky for the school administration and the town. Newton faced an important decision: choosing between the three main choices for remediation.

The first option was to identify the source of the lead and remove it, thereby eliminating any risk of a recurrence. This is the most expensive but most permanent method. The second option was to install filters within the school’s central plumbing or at water fixtures to remove lead from upstream. The third option, the least expensive but also most labor-intensive, was to flush each tap for 30 seconds at the start of each day. This would remove overnight lead buildup in pipes.

Unlike many school districts, Newton had a flexible budget to work with, and so the town chose the first option: find and remove sources of lead. Julie McDonough, Communications Specialist for Newton schools, says the town felt that this, “was the only way to fix the problem,” for good.

And so the first phase of remediation began. At most of the schools, the lead source was within water fountain and sink hardware. Replacing fixtures was a straightforward solution. Fifty Five bubblers across the district were replaced over the summer. Lead levels dropped below 15 ppb in all of those schools.

But Burr Elementary’s problems persisted. The lead source was more difficult to find. Over the summer, the school’s service line, interior cold water plumbing lines, water fountains, and sink fixtures were replaced. In August, however, additional testing showed that lead levels were still high. The water was still undrinkable. The town hurried as the start of the school year rapidly approached. They removed the building’s water meter and the aerators from water fountains and sinks. It worked. Finally, lead concentrations fell to legal levels.

Some sinks weren’t tested and there’s still a chance they aren’t safe. Schools worked with the parent committee to design signage for these sinks. Parent input advanced the design and ensured that it was installed at eye level, making this budget-friendly solution effective.

The process was not perfect, but education and lead removal means that thousands of children and school staff are safer than before.

The Long-Term Plan

Moving forward, the schools have developed a remediation plan. It includes annual testing for two years, flushing faucets and fountains after breaks, and posting all results on the school’s website and on the drinking water page of the City of Newton’s website. (The full remediation plan)

Parents’ priorities are to ensure that testing and flushing occur as planned. Next, they want to build up better systems for testing. They are working with the schools on testing protocols and record-keeping systems. This will make future testing more accurate and organized.

Grubb says another focus is on long-term education. He hopes that teachers and parents of incoming students are as aware of the dangers of lead as current parents, “If you go to Burr today and fill a water bottle from the hot water tap, it will be full of lead. How do we make sure that the school district stays disciplined and that people maintain sufficient interest in the issue?” he asks.

It’s an ongoing process. In two years, the city will work with MassDEP to interpret its results and build a plan that will keep people safe. In Grubb’s words, “The need for action is still high.”

Photo courtesy of Newton Public Schools

What We Learned

Newton Public Schools’ situation is just one case study of a serious problem, but it’s valuable to learn from. These are the takeaways from Newton’s experience.

 

  1. Test beyond what is legally required

Federal regulations do not require any specific lead testing for 90% of schools.Massachusetts laws are inadequate as well and can allow several years of lead contamination to slip past unnoticed. It was crucial that Newton decided to run its own testing program. Newton was lucky that testing just two fixtures at each school was enough to catch its schools’ lead contamination. Newton then investigated at its other schools and discovered the widespread nature of the problem. This enabled the town to protect children from 55 contaminated fountains and sinks.

 

  1. Be transparent and include community early in process

McDonough admits that parents should have been involved earlier. The first community meeting occurred almost one month after the first test results came back from Burr. “I think that caused greater anxiety for people. Even if you don’t have a plan it’s good to have an outlet for people,” McDonough said.

 

  1. Know the options

When plumbing is leaching lead into water, Newton’s choice to find and replace the source of lead is not the only solution.

  • Water filters can effectively remove lead and other contaminants from drinking water at a lower cost. They are used by school districts all over the country. Recently, the City of Boston chose to combat lead contamination this way. If you think a water filtration system would be a good option for your school, we recommend you check out our article on the 5 Most Popular Drinking Fountains for Schools.
  • Flushing taps at the start of each day to remove lead buildup is another way to address low lead levels. This no-cost method requires regular attention to be effective.
  • Placing clear signage at sinks to prevent drinking from them is another low-cost measure.

 

  1. Build systems for long-term safety

The process of responding to lead contamination made it clear what parts of testing, record keeping, and education could be improved. Newton’s historical test results were inconsistent and kept in several different offices. Fixture labels and testing protocols were not standardized. With a greater awareness of lead poisoning and its effects, parents and town officials can now work towards long term safety by responding to these issues.

How to Remove Lead from School Drinking Water

How to Remove Lead from School Drinking Water

“ Lead is dangerous for children even in low levels and can permanently harm their developing brains and nervous systems.”

7

APRIL, 2017

Lead in Schools Drinking Water

Water Sustainability

The crisis in Flint, Michigan has shined a spotlight on the public health hazards of lead in drinking water. Pressure has been placed on schools, institutions at high risk for lead, and where millions of children are vulnerable to its effects each day.

This guide will assist school and town stakeholders from the moment lead is discovered through the process of planning for long term success. In order to help you make the best decision for your school, we’ve considered effectiveness, cost, and labor.

How to interpret lead levels

Physicians, public health officials, and the EPA all agree that no amount of lead exposure is safe. Lead is dangerous for children even in low levels and can permanently harm their developing brains and nervous systems. It is persistent and bioaccumulates, so early exposure is important to avoid.

Despite this consensus, the World Health Organization and European Union have both established a legal level of lead in water of 10 ppb. The EPA’s standard is even higher. The agency recommends action at any individual water outlet when the lead level is above 20 ppb. For public water systems as a whole, its action level is 15 ppb. Many schools that discover lead contamination use the EPA standard of 15 ppb.

The data is clear. Even exposure below 10 ppb is dangerous for children. We agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics: lead levels at each fountain and faucet must reach a standard of ≤1 ppb to be safe.

Immediate response to finding lead

Regardless of the long-term remediation method you choose, there are steps to take as soon as you discover high lead levels:

 

  • Remove access to contaminated water and post signage. Shut off water supply or physically disconnect unsafe fountains/sinks until lead levels are safe. Signage at each fixture will provide clarification and education about the issue.

 

  • Contact your local water system and state departments of health and water. Local and state government will need to update their records and ensure that water treatment is appropriate. You can also contact the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 to report information and ask questions.

 

  • Provide notice to parents and school community. Being transparent about lead levels and school response plans gives credibility to schools and opens the door for beneficial community involvement towards a solution. Schools can use any method they believe will be effective at reaching their audience. Many schools post on their websites, send or email a letter to parents, or publish a letter in their local newspaper. For greatest transparency, posting online is recommended.

 

  • If necessary, provide water from an alternate source. If main sources of drinking water are impacted, schools may need to rely on bottled water dispensers until the problem is resolved.

 

Remediation: The Options

Once the immediate risk is gone, it’s time to look into more permanent solutions. These solutions vary in 1) efficacy, 2) cost, and 3) required labor. The right method may differ between school districts, or even between schools, depending on available resources.

Option 1: Finding and removing lead at the source

How it works:

Schools or contractors search for sources of lead, remove or bypass them, and conduct follow-up testing until tests show that lead concentrations have dropped to target levels (safest levels are ≤1 ppb). Schools should also clean fixture aerators and re-route any ground wires near pipes that may accelerate corrosion in areas at risk for lead.

Likely places with lead include interior pipes, service lines, solder, fixture hardware, aerators, and water meters. Importantly, there may be areas of plumbing that are at risk of leaching lead into water as they age even if they are not currently posing a problem. It is important to check all of these potential sources of lead.

Creating a plumbing profile of your school will help you identify and keep track of high-risk areas for lead, make decisions about water supply and pipe materials, prioritize sample sites to effectively systematize testing, strategize for remediation, and inform parents and school staff about steps the school is taking.

A plumber can assess interior plumbing, while the local water supplier will have information about a building’s service lines. Make sure that a plumber uses only lead-free solders and other materials in replacements, as is required by law.

 

How it stacks up:

Efficacy: This method can be up to 100% effective and permanent if done thoroughly. In practice, however, it may fall short of achieving safe lead levels. For example, after Newton, MA’s remediation efforts in 2016 many school fixtures still tested at up to 10 ppb.

Cost: Costs are generally very high. They will vary depending on the extent of existing lead contamination and potential future sources of lead contamination that should be removed. If the source of lead is difficult to find, testing costs could also quickly add up at $20-$80 per sample. For Cleveland Public Schools in 2016, testing alone throughout 69 buildings cost over $390,000.

For example, simply replacing drinking fountains (at $500-$1500 each plus installation costs) will be much less expensive than excavating to replace a building service line which, in addition to costing thousands of dollars, could run into unexpected costs such as any building structural components blocking access.

Labor: This will also generally be costly, with some variation. However, testing, construction, and installations can be accomplished by an independent contractor and are not necessarily reliant on school personnel.

Option 2:  Filtration

How it works:

Certified point-of use filter systems can remove up to 99.5% of lead from drinking water without the need for time-consuming efforts to find and remove lead from infrastructure.

The filters need to be periodically replaced, usually about once per year. For the most trafficked stations, replacements will be, at most, twice per year.

In 2016, Washington, D.C. tested water throughout its public schools and found lead contamination above 15 ppb in 64 buildings. The District government installed filters at every water source in those schools. After seeing how effective filtration is, the government changed its lead standard to 1 ppb and has since installed filters at every water source in every school in the District.

If you decide filtration is an appropriate solution for your school, take a look at our list of the 5 Most Popular Bottle Filling Stations for Schools to find the filler that best fits your needs.

 

How it stacks up:

Efficacy: Filtration can be both effective and quickly implemented. The filters that BeCause Water provides are NSF/ANSI 42/53 certified. They will remove 99.5% of lead in the conditions listed by the manufacturer, Elkay. This enables them to bring water with up to 200 ppb lead to safe standards. They also remove three other common contaminants from water: copper, chlorine, and particulates.

According to Elkay, filters hold a 3000 gallon capacity, or about 24,000 16-ounce “bottle fills”. This capacity can extend upwards of 1 year of completely safe water for most bottle fillers.

Cost: Filtration systems can retrofit into existing fountain locations for less than $500 per station plus installation costs. New systems may cost approximately $800-$1000 plus installation. Each system will come with one replacement filter, and additional filters cost approximately $90 each. The cost of replacements should therefore cost less than $180 per year. In total, this solution is significantly cheaper than pipe replacement.

Labor:  Labor is required for installation and then briefly for periodic filter replacement. Most bottle fillers have an easily accessible compartment that houses the filter where the existing filter can be removed and the replacement popped in.

Option 3: Flushing

 

How it works:

School staff manually flush each source of drinking water for 1-2 minutes at the start of each day. While using time-operated solenoid valves is another option, these are not recommended due to liability, installation, and maintenance costs.

To work best, this measure should be combined with regular testing, cleaning debris from accessible screens and aerators, and training staff to use only cold water for cooking and drinking.

Many schools (including dozens on this list from Massachusetts) report that they flush their taps to reduce lead, but do not report any other actions. This puts students’ and staff’s health and safety at great risk.

 

How it stacks up:

Efficacy: This method has limited efficacy and should only be used if the first two are infeasible. It should not be trusted if lead levels are well above safe levels or for drinking water sources that provide hot water. This method also faces the risk of human error, since it is dependent on daily attention.

Cost: In direct short-term costs, flushing is cheaper than the first two options. Over the long term, however, labor and water wastage costs will become higher.

Labor: Labor for this method is intensive compared to the first two options. It will be approximately equal to [1 minute per tap x # taps x salary of person flushing].

Other EPA-recommended actions

 

For any non-drinking water sources that are not safe or are not tested for lead due to budget constraints, the EPA accepts cautionary signage as an appropriate response. The signage should communicate that the water is not safe for drinking and should be combined with educational outreach about the issue.

In the Long-Term 

 

After choosing and implementing a remediation strategy for lead in water, schools should set up systems for long-term safety.

 

  • Make sure that testing and record-keeping systems are in order. A school plumbing profile can help keep track of high-risk sites for lead and organize testing and record-keeping protocols. Accurate fixture ID’s and exact protocols for testing best practices are also useful for communicating within the school district and with outside contractors. Testing consistency is important for accurate results.

 

  • Have a plan for future testing. Make sure that the staff responsible for working with contractors, testing laboratories, records, maintaining signage, or educating students are well-informed and familiar with both safe and legal guidelines. It is important to check both federal and state laws.

 

  • Communicate the problem to staff, families, and the surrounding community. When it comes to the serious nature of lead poisoning, transparency is imperative to generating viable solutions and creating an awareness of the problem. Newsletters, informational meetings, and letters to local media are all good ways to get the word out and ensure everyone is in the loop.

 

  • Educate staff and students. Even for those not directly involved with implementation or maintenance of lead responses, it is useful to be informed and aware of the problems that lead can pose. Impacted, schools may need to rely on bottled water dispensers until the problem is resolved.

 

Finding lead in drinking water can be a concerning and confusing moment, but these best practices can act as a starting point to ensuring schools provide healthy environments for all students and staff.

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Lead in Schools: The Facts

Lead in Schools: The Facts

10

February, 2017

In the wake of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, schools across the United States are testing their drinking water. Because of major national gaps in water infrastructure funding and regulations, many are unfortunately finding high lead levels.

They raise the question, “How much lead is there in our schools’ water?”

How severe is the problem of lead in school drinking water?

Lead in school drinking water is a serious issue across the country. Lead levels above US EPA standards have been found in schools from Portland, Oregon to Washington, DC. Already in 2017, news of lead in public school drinking water has come from New York City and throughout Arizona.

It is sadly no surprise that lead contamination is often found in poorer cities and towns, such as Flint, Michigan or Newark, New Jersey. In Newark, about one quarter of school samples contained lead in 2016. Some of those taps have shown lead levels above EPA standards since 2011.

However, that isn’t to say that lead contamination is only limited to poorer areas. Across the state of Massachusetts, a 2016 statewide testing program revealed 164 public schools had elevated lead levels, out of the about 300 tested.

The news in Massachusetts has caused surprise and concern. Glenn Koocher, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, expressed his alarm. “The presence of lead in any school water supply is distressing. This report should be a call to action.” He recognized the systemic nature of the problem, noting, “The real challenge for us is to prioritize the replacement of lead water pipes as part of our national effort to improve our infrastructure.”

Results to date may only be the tip of the iceberg. Richard Maas, Co-director of the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, estimates that if samples were taken at every school tap in the US, 10-20% would test positive for lead. Some schools have even uncovered levels as high as those found in Flint homes. Evidence indicates a pervasive problem, but due to gaps in testing, there’s no way verify the problem completely.

What are the health dangers of consuming lead in drinking water?

Lead directly affects children at school by impairing learning and cognition. Lead is correlated with lower standardized test and IQ scores in children. Even after “safe” levels of exposure, its effects are profound.

Lead is a toxin that can affect almost every organ in the body. In children, lead poisoning may negatively impact learning, motor skills, and hormones during crucial years. It can cause developmental delays (for example, delays in speech or puberty), lower IQs, decreased hearing and balance, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness and fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, seizures, and consumption of items that aren’t food (pica).

Though the EPA only requires action if lead levels in water reach 15 parts per billion, no level of lead is safe to consume. This is especially true for children, whose bodies absorb and accumulate lead more easily than adults.

Are schools at a higher risk than other places of lead in drinking water?

Most schools are at higher risk for lead in their water than other types of buildings, such as homes (though lead is a problem in many homes as well). There are three reasons for this:

First, most school buildings are decades old and likely to have some lead in their plumbing. In 2013, school buildings in the US were 44 years old on average. By contrast, schools are not considered “lead free” by today’s standards unless they were built in 2014 or later. Instead, their plumbing materials may contain up to 8% lead.

Second, schools are used primarily in the daytime and during certain times of the year. Water stays in pipes overnight and during several weeks, even months, in the year. As water sits in pipes and plumbing containing lead, lead accumulates in the water, causing high concentrations of lead to materialize.

Third, there is no lead testing rule specific to schools despite their higher risk, so schools may be tested infrequently or sporadically from varying taps.

Lead is particularly dangerous in schools because of the serious effects it can cause for children. Children absorb lead more easily than adults and experience the most severe, long-term effects of lead poisoning.

Lead directly affects children at school by impairing learning and cognition.

Aren’t there laws that prevent lead in drinking water?

Yes, but they do not guarantee that there is no lead in school water. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires utilities to test only some taps in each water system, which can include schools but doesn’t cite them directly.

There is no federal law specifically requiring testing of drinking water in schools that receive water from public water systems ., This means that about 90% of schools may be used as a sampling location (i.e., tap) for a public water system’s lead testing required under SDWA, but there are no federal requirements for more extensive testing. Schools that do have their own water supplies are subject to more thorough regulation and sampling.

States and towns/cities may also establish their own programs for testing drinking water lead levels in schools. Several, including Illinois and New Jersey, have implemented state-wide testing since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. In Seattle, all schools must be tested every three years. School districts, such as Newton Public Schools in Massachusetts, discovered lead as a result of their own testing programs.

Massachusetts is one state that must improve its testing standards. Each public water system must include samples from at least two schools or early education care centers per district in their testing. Depending on system water quality, these samples may be taken as infrequently as every three years. There can be several sampling periods between tests at each school. This has allowed lead to enter schools’ water unnoticed, as evidenced by the state’s 2016 testing assistance program.

What are the steps to test for lead in water? How difficult is it?

There are several options for testing lead content in school drinking water. If you concerned about the possibility of lead at your school, take action by learning the options for testing. Find more resources on our website at www.becausewater.com.

How can schools take steps toward safe water if they discover lead?

If lead levels are very high, schools can eliminate exposure from drinking water by providing only water from a filtration system. The only way to make sure that a filter is safe is to look for its certification by an independent organization such as the National Sanitation Foundation. If you think filtration might be a good option for your school, see our article on the 5 Most Popular Water Bottle Filling Stations.

As a minimum first step, schools can make water from their drinking water sources safer by regularly flushing their taps. Several schools have responded to very low levels of lead by running taps for 1-2 minutes each at the beginning of each school day, after water has sat still in pipes all night and accumulated to its highest lead concentrations. In addition, those who use sinks for drinking water should run only cold water through the tap. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can contain much higher levels of lead.

Washing hands in water containing lead is generally considered safe, since lead cannot be absorbed through the skin.

What resources are there for schools concerned about lead in drinking water?

  1. US EPA’s 3T’s for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water: Testing
  2. EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1-800-426-4791
  3. How to Remove Lead from School Drinking Water
  4. How to Remove Lead from School Drinking Water

 

Lead contamination of school drinking water has been a neglected issue across the country. There are some regulations and programs that monitor lead in school water, but these are largely insufficient. Therefore, ultimately each school (and you, reading this article) is responsible for making sure that each school’s drinking water is safe.

Sources

US EPA. “Basic Information About Lead in Drinking Water.”

Mayo Clinic. “Lead Poisoning Symptoms and Causes.”

Pediatrics Journal, October 2005. “Lead Exposure in Children: Prevention, Detection, and Management.”

US EPA. “Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems: Lead and Copper Rule.”

US EPA. “Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR).”

US Government Publishing Office, June 1991. “Title 40: Protection of Environment; Part 141: National Primary Drinking Water Regulations; Subpart 1: Control of Lead and Copper.”

American Water Works Association, 2013. “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.”

Huffington Post, June 2016. “Portland, Oregon Has A Lead Problem. Kids Are Paying The Price.”

Washington City Paper, June 2016. “D.C. Tested Public Schools’ Water for Lead. More Than 60 Had High Levels.”

The New York Times, March 2016. “High Lead Levels Found at More Newark Schools.”

The New York Times, April 2016. “Drinking Water in Newark Schools Known to Have Lead Problem at Least 6 Years Ago.”

Snell & Wilmer Law, February 2017. “Arizona Tests for Lead in School Drinking Water Reveal Elevated Levels.”

Boston Globe, June 2016. “High Lead Levels Found More Than 160 School Buildings in Mass.”

The Washington Post, March 2004. “EPA Asks for States’ Plans on Lead.”

The Guardian, March 2016. “Alarm over lead found in drinking water at US schools.”

Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2007. “The Relationship between Early Childhood Blood Lead Levels and Performance on End-of-Grade Tests”

WebMD, 2001. “‘Acceptable’ Lead Levels Linked to Lower IQ Scores in Kids.”

WHO, September 2016. “Lead Poisoning and Health.”

National Center for Education Statistics, 2014. “Condition of America’s Public School Facilities: 2012 –13.”

New York State Department of Health, November 2016. “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS For School Buildings and Grounds Personnel Lead in NYS School Drinking Water.”

State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, July 2016. “New Jersey Technical Guidance: Lead in Drinking Water at Schools & Child Care Facilities.”

The Washington Post, July 2016. “Schools Around the Country Find Lead in Water, With No Easy Answers.”

US EPA, July 2004. “Controlling Lead in Drinking Water for Schools and Day Care Facilities: A Summary of State Programs”

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, March 2016. “The Lead Contamination Control Act (LCCA) Frequently Asked Questions.”