Groups Launch New Effort to Get the Lead Out of Schools’ Drinking Water, with Washington, DC in the Vanguard

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John Rumpler

Senior Director, Clean Water for America Campaign and Senior Attorney, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Environment America Research & Policy Center

Washington, DC – Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG today launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign.  An analysis by Environment America Research & Policy Center shows that many states are not making the grade when it comes to keep lead out of drinking water at school.  Across the country, doctors, parents, and local officials are joining the groups in calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water schools and daycares.

“Our kids should have safe drinking water every day at school,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America Research & Policy Center.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

As more schools test their water, they are finding lead.  Moreover, the groups’ new report shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  For example, the report cites new data from Massachusetts, where half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school:

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Steven Gilbert, PhD, PABT, who directs the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.   In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. 

 “From Fort Worth to Milwaukee to Boston, the data all tells the same story,” explained Yanna Lambrinidou, PhD, an expert in lead in drinking water at Virginia Tech.  “As long as there is lead in the delivery system, our drinking water is at risk of contamination.”

Unfortunately, current state and federal laws do far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.

In Washington, DC, a proposed ordinance introduced by Councilmember Mary M. Cheh would begin to change that. If adopted, the ordinance would make Washington, DC the first jurisdiction in the country with the following protections:  1) requiring NSF filters at every tap in school used for drinking; 2) allowing no more than 1 part per billion of lead in schools’ water, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics; 4) requiring annual tests of all outlets; 5) publishing all testing and remediation data online; 6) placing bar codes with access to filter maintenance data on fountains at school; and 7) the law will apply to schools, early childhood programs, and even public parks.

“No parent should have to worry about their child drinking water contaminated with lead,” said Councilmember Cheh. “We owe it to our District children and their parents to do better –not only by eliminating any traces of lead in our drinking water, but also in communicating our mitigation efforts and improvements in environmental safety.”

Parents in other states are demanding action too.   State affiliates of Environment America and U.S. PIRG are working with doctors, parents, and community leaders in several other states – including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin – to advance policies that Get the Lead Out of schools and daycares.

“Do we really want to wait for more tests to show that our kids have been drinking lead?” asked Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics program director for U.S. PIRG Education Fund.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

Environment America Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our water, air and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.

 U.S. PIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.