Photo Credit: T Kruesselmann/Getty Images
Here’s what parents need to know to safeguard their children:
Lead in School Drinking Water
Many are surprised to learn that lead-contaminated water remains a widespread threat in this country. After all, it’s been nearly two decades since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed its historic Lead and Copper Rule. The regulation required manufacturers and builders to use lead-free materials in all new plumbing while requiring municipal water utilities to monitor lead levels in a sampling of home tap water each year.
Such regulations have dramatically improved water safety, Edwards confirms, but the problem hasn’t completely disappeared. Still, while experts thought that lead leaching would decreas over time, old lead plumbing continues to degrade and release lead into drinking water. There was also the discovery that newer, so-called “lead free” plumbing materials can also leach lead. By law, lead-free pipes are allowed to contain up to 8 percent lead, Edwards explains. And, in isolated instances, that appears to be enough to elevate lead levels in drinking water above safe levels. . Bottom line: plumbing—old or new—can still contaminate water with levels of lead far above EPA-established health limits.
This problem is magnified in schools by the simple fact that lead tends to build up in water that is allowed to sit in pipes for long periods. That’s exactly what occurs in schools, especially over weekends and school vacations.
“Even water sitting in pipes overnight can contaminate water to the point where, in rare cases, a single glass has enough lead to send a child to the hospital with symptoms of lead poisoning, which can be similar to those of a flu virus,” Edwards says. More commonly, says Edwards, is that kids in some schools are exposed to slightly elevated lead levels in water, which over time can adversely affect their mental development. Unfortunately, no one knows the true extent of the problem, Edwards says, because the monitoring of school drinking water remains largely voluntary.
Until we do, he suggests parents work with school administers to ensure that school drinking water is tested at least annually from representative taps and then take measures to correct any problems. Often, the solutions are as simple as installing faucet water filters or closing off one or two problem taps. Unfortunately, system-wide problems can cost millions to fix, leading some schools to install water coolers rather than tackle repairs.