Lead contamination in schools’ drinking water: worse than previously thought

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Lead contamination in our schools is more pervasive than previously thought, according to water testing data from 20 states published in a national interactive map by Environment America and U.S. PIRG today. As schools begin summer break, the groups urge public officials to take swift action to Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water.

Blue: States included in this analysis; gray: states not included in this analysis

“Wherever there are fountains, pipes or plumbing made with lead, there is risk of contamination,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America. “As more schools test, they are finding this potent neurotoxin in the water our kids drink every day.”

In the wake of the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, more and more schools have been testing their water for lead. However, some states and school districts have only reported results above 15 parts per billion — a federal standard that does not adequately protect public health because there is no safe level of lead.

According to the EPA,”[i]n children, low levels of [lead] exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.”

Available test results showing lower levels of lead reveal a much more widespread contamination problem. For example, 71 percent of Texas schools tested in 2017 had lead in their water above one part per billion. The new map shows several other states where more than half of schools tested found some level of lead. These confirmed cases of contamination are likely only the tip of the iceberg.

Rather than wait for more test results, the groups are calling on public officials to take swift action to Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water. While removing lead-bearing pipes, fixtures and plumbing will take time, school districts can start this summer by installing filters certified to remove lead on all faucets and fountains used for drinking.

“Our kids deserve safe drinking water — especially at school where they go daily to learn and play,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director at U.S. PIRG. “For school districts at risk of failing their public health class, we suggest a summer school with a ‘get the lead out’ curriculum.”


Environment America is the national federation of statewide, citizen-based advocacy organizations working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.

U.S. PIRG is an advocate for the public interest, working to win concrete results on real problems that affect millions of lives, and standing up for the public against powerful interests when they push the other way.