Interactive map shows widespread lead contamination in schools drinking water

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

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

BOSTON — Lead contamination of school drinking water is more pervasive than previously thought, according to testing data from across the nation published on Thursday by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund on a new interactive map. The groups urged public officials to take swift action to “get the lead out” of schools’ drinking water.

“Most schools have faucets, fountains, pipes or plumbing made with lead,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America Research & Policy Center. “While it’s alarming to find this toxic substance in the water our kids drink every day, it’s not particularly surprising.” 

The new map indicated that states with the most available data have generally found at least one lead-contaminated tap in more than half of schools tested. In several states, more than 70% of schools tested have confirmed instances of lead contamination.  

Researchers believe lead contamination of schools’ water extends far beyond what the available data show. Even though lead is toxic to children at extremely low levels,some states have only published test results with lead concentrations that exceed five or even 15 parts per billion. Other states used sampling methods that are less likely to detect the full extent of contamination, or have only tested some taps in some schools. Moreover, high variability in lead corrosion means that no single water sample is likely to capture the full risk to kids’ drinking water.

Rather than wait for more test results, the public health and environmental advocacy groups  are calling on public officials to take swift action to “get the lead out” of schools’ drinking water. With unprecedented federal funding available, states and school districts now have the resources to replace lead-bearing fountains with water stations that have filters to remove lead from water.

Several states – including Missouri, Colorado, Michigan, and Massachusetts – are considering bills to require filters on schools’ drinking water taps. At the local level, activists are urging local school boards to take action in several communities – including Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Atlantic County, New Jersey.

“Our kids deserve drinking water that is free of toxic substances wherever they go daily to learn and play,” said Emily Rogers, Zero Out Toxics advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “We hope this map serves as a call to action, helping us to get the lead out of school drinking water once and for all.” 

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