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Schools Nationwide at Risk for High Lead Levels
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Summary: No laws or funding options currently exist for schools to get the necessary testing done on water sources in the schools to protect students.

After the reality of lead being present in water gathered attention from the crisis in Flint, Michigan, cities and states across the country are testing their water for lead levels. Schools are one place where lead does not have to be tested for.


Exposure to high levels of lead is known to cause brain damage and development problems such as impulsive behavior and a lack of language skills. Schools are not required under federal law to test their water that comes from the tap and drinking fountains or report the findings to parents when problems are found. In the past 15 years, lead has been found in the school water in the districts of Baltimore, the District of Columbia, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York has introduced legislation to change this lack of testing. The legislation will create $100 million in grants to help schools test drinking water. As Schumer explains, “Right now there is a yawning gap in our lead-testing protocols. It’s disturbing that Flint may have been just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toxic lead in our kids’ drinking water.”

Read $150 Million Class Action Filed against Flint, Michigan to learn more about the crisis in Flint.

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New York discovered that schools in Ithaca had high levels of lead in two buildings, resulting in the schools handing out bottled water to students. One of the classrooms had lead levels of 5,000 parts per billion, hundreds of times higher than the level where the federal government requires action.

Federal law only requires schools that gain their own water through wells to test water every three years. Ithaca discovered their problem because of this but parents weren’t told of the problem until six months later. One suggestion for older schools built before 1986 is to install lead filters on water fountains and taps. For newer schools built between 1986 and 2014, it is unclear what is needed to protect kids.




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