Analysis reveals lead contamination in Georgia’s school water

Media Contacts
Jennifer Duenas

Former Clean Water Associate, Environment Georgia

 ATLANTA – As part of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Environment Georgia released on Tuesday a new analysis of Georgia’s lead in school drinking water program. The program, known as “Clean Water for Georgia Kids,” was launched in June 2021 by the Georgia Department of Education and RTI International research institute and is funded by the EPA’s WIIN grant. As of early October, only 46 schools and daycare centers had taken advantage of the free lead testing available through the program. Of the testing that has occured, 45% of the samples collected showed lead concentrations above the level recommended by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but nearly half of the school and daycare taps tested found dangerous levels of lead,” said Jennifer Duenas, public health advocate with Environment Georgia. “Kids’ developing brains are especially susceptible to highly toxic lead so it’s time to get the lead out.” 

All too often, schools and homes have pipes, plumbing and fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Dr Yolanda Whyte, a pediatrician based in Metro Atlanta. “There is no safe level of lead for children.”   

Current state law does not do enough to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. Environment Georgia’s analysis included five recommendations that ranged from schools proactively installing filtered water bottle filling stations to the governor setting up a lead remediation fund, to the Georgia legislature setting a standard for lead concentrations in drinking water. 

“It is so important that our kids receive a high quality education and live in a healthy environment,” said Georgia State Rep. Becky Evans of Atlanta.  “I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure every child has safe, clean drinking water at school.”

Findings of the analysis include:

  • Forty-five percent of taps tested produced lead readings above the one parts-per-billion (ppb) limit recommended by the AAP.  Of the 2,144 taps tested, 964 showed elevated levels of lead.
  • Forty-six schools and daycare centers have tested their schools for lead through the program. According to the Department of Education, there are 2,306 public schools in Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning estimates there are roughly 3,100 daycare facilities in Georgia.
  • Twenty-two counties out of 159 (14%) counties have tested at least one of their schools for lead through the program. 
  • Fourteen of the 22 counties in the data set have tested only one school through the program. 

“With simple measures, we can address lead contamination and improve children’s health at the same time that larger and longer-term water infrastructure improvements take place,” said Duenas. “We hope this analysis inspires continued focus on lead in school drinking water and offers recommendations for schools and state leadership that we can start using today.”

“Reduced early childhood exposure to lead is associated with increased educational potential, higher lifetime earnings, and improved wellbeing,” said Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, a senior environmental health scientist at RTI and the Clean Water for Georgia Kids program director. “Lead testing allows us to pinpoint whether there is lead at the tap, how much, and where it is, so that we can take action to protect children’s health.”