Is lead in drinking water at schools?

Lead is a toxic heavy metal used in batteries and construction materials. Historically, lead was also used in paint, plumbing materials, solder used to fuse plumbing pipes together, and gasoline. These former uses have been widely banned due to the highly poisonous nature of lead, however, lead pipes remain in use across all 50 of the United States.

These lead pipes carry water to drinking sources, including school water systems. These water systems deliver drinking water through faucets and fountains, which our children use for drinking water. Lead pipes are known to corrode and contaminate the water that travels through them. 

The Problem

"Currently, there is no uniformity in states’ approaches to create and oversee programs to test for elevated lead in school drinking water. When collected, data on lead in school drinking water are not collected in a uniform manner across states, nor are they regularly made available to guide action to reduce potential exposure to lead. In those states that have tested for lead in drinking water and had data available, nearly half of the schools (44%) have identified one or more water sources with elevated levels of lead and more would do so if lower action levels were used to test all drinking water sources in schools."¹

Lead pipes in schools have knowingly tested and reported contamination. However, "approximately 8,000 schools and child care facilities maintain their own water supply and are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). There are approximately 98,000 public schools and 500,000 child care facilities not regulated under the SDWA."² Meaning it is up to these unregulated schools and facilities to test their water supply. This leaves many schools vulnerable to contamination with no regulation or requirement to test or disclose any information. 

Credit: Environment America Research & Policy Center (2019). 

Risks of Exposure

There is no safe level of lead exposure in children. Lead is harmful to human health even at low exposure levels and accumulates in the body over time. Infants, children, and fetuses are at increased risk because they experience behavioral and physical side effects at much lower exposure levels than adults. As exposure increases, so do the effects. 

Health Effects

"Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones."

Health effects include: cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure, kidney and reproductive problems, learning disabilities, and nervous system damage in children. 

Summary

Because there is no standard for regulating the water supplied and no standard for mandated pipe replacements at this time, there is a high probability that the drinking water at your kids' schools and childcare facilities is contaminated with lead. Irreversible damage and the possibility of lead poisoning or disease from lead exposure is a serious threat. You can contact your school and ask if there are lead pipes and if the water has been tested for lead. In order to try and avoid drinking lead-contaminated water, it is suggested that you filter out lead and other heavy metals.

The Junior Insulated Stainless Steel Filtered Water Bottle removes 99.9% of lead. See the test results here. 

 

Resources:

1.Harvard School of Public Health. Early Adopters: State Approaches to Testing School Drinking Water for Lead in the United States.
https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/84/2019/01/Early-Adopters_State-Approaches-to-Testing-School-Drinking-Water-for-Lead-in-the-United-States_2019.pdf
2. EPA. Lead Drinking Water at Schools and Childcare Facilities. 
https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-drinking-water-schools-and-childcare-facilities
3. WHO. Lead Poisoning and Health. 
https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health
4. Environment America. Get Lead Out. 
https://environmentamerica.org/feature/ame/get-lead-out-0
5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Lead Exposure in Children. 
https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/lead-exposure/Pages/Lead-Exposure-in-Children.aspx
6. CDC. Lead in Drinking Water. 
https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/sources/water.htm#:~:text=Lead%20can%20enter%20drinking%20water,acidity%20or%20low%20mineral%20content.
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