Get the Lead Out: Back-to-school toolkit

A toolkit to help parents, teachers and school officials get the facts on lead in drinking water and take action to ensure safe drinking water at school

A toolkit to help parents, teachers and school officials get the facts on lead in drinking water and take  action to ensure safe drinking water at school

Tips & Guides

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Our children need safe drinking water — especially at school, where they go to learn and play each day. Unfortunately, lead is contaminating drinking water at schools and preschools across the country.

The problem stems from pipes, plumbing, faucets and fountains that contain lead. The common-sense solution is to “get the lead out” of schools’ water delivery systems.

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Step 1: Get the facts

We now know the toxic threat of lead in drinking water extends to thousands of communities across the country. In fact, lead is even contaminating drinking water in schools and preschools — flowing from fountains and faucets where our kids drink water every day.

Lead is highly toxic, especially for children
A potent neurotoxin, lead affects how our children learn, grow and behave. According to the EPA, “In 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.”

Lead is contaminating drinking water at schools across the country
As more schools test their water for lead, they are finding widespread contamination — including those in rural towns, major cities and affluent suburbs.

In all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are just the tip of the iceberg. Any school built before 2014 is likely to have significant lead in its pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.

There is no safe level of lead
Lead is so toxic even at low levels that the EPA has set a goal of having zero lead in drinking water. Medical researchers estimate that more than 24 million children in America today risk losing IQ points due to low levels of lead. ADHD, anxiety and depression are also linked to exposure to even very low levels of lead.

Step 2: Find out about lead risks at your child’s school

Contact your school’s principal, superintendent or school board — and ask the following questions:

1. What year was our school built?

Until 2014, national standards allowed plumbing, faucets and fixtures to contain a significant amount of lead — up to a weighted average of 8 percent of surface area in contact with water. (After that, the allowable lead content was reduced to 0.25 percent). So unless your school has new plumbing and fixtures, there is a significantly higher risk that the drinking water is being contaminated with lead.

2. Has the drinking water at our school been tested for lead? If so, where can I access the full results, including tests where any level of lead was detected?

3. What policies does our school have in place to prevent lead contamination of water?

Step 3: Study for the test

We already know that wherever there is lead in a water delivery system, there is a risk of contamination. So schools should not wait for test results before taking action to “get the lead out” and protect our children’s health.

However, some school districts are reluctant to spend money without test results. And others might misinterpret test results as a rationale for taking very limited steps, rather than the comprehensive measures needed to ensure safe drinking water at school.

Here’s what you need to know about testing:

Good test results don’t always mean safe water. Lead corrosion can be highly variable, so tests sometimes fail to detect contamination. Especially if your school’s faucets, fountains or plumbing were installed before 2014, the water is likely at risk even if a few tests failed to detect it.

Ask to see test results showing any level of lead. Sometimes officials or the media will only consider it a problem if the lead exceeds 15 ppb, and in some cases they may not even disclose the results if the levels are below that. There is no safe level of lead. Ask to see all test results.

Testing is just the beginning. Your school should definitely test for lead to determine if they have a serious problem. But you don’t have to wait for the test results to call on your school to take action to protect children’s health. Check out our action packet with resources on the key things you should ask your school to do.

Step 4: Make sure your schools have a plan to:

1. Shut off dangerous taps: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools keep lead concentrations in water no greater than 1 ppb. Taps used for drinking or cooking that test above 1 ppb of lead should be shut off until remediated.

2. Install filters now: Installing filters on all taps used for drinking and cooking is an easy, low-cost step schools can take to start protecting children immediately. Make sure the filters are installed at “point of use” and certified to remove lead.

3. Replace pipes, plumbing, fountains and/or fixtures that contain lead: This is the most effective, permanent solution to prevent contamination of the water our children drink at school, or elsewhere.

4. Remove lead service lines: If the pipe connecting your school, home or child care center to the water main in the street is made of lead, that lead service line is likely to be the largest single source of water contamination. Have it replaced as soon as possible.

5. Require ongoing testing: Regularly test all outlets used for drinking or cooking. Use proper sampling methods that are more likely to detect lead contamination.

6. Communicate: Plans and actual steps taken to prevent lead contamination, along with all test results, should be made easily accessible — including online — to parents, teachers and the public. Outlets should clearly indicate when filters are due to be replaced.

Step 5: Work together to get the lead out

Parents and community members concerned about lead in school drinking water will be more likely to get your child’s school to take action if you get as many people involved as possible.

Here are some helpful tips and resources to get you started:

1. Download and share our toolkit with the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and/or other active parent groups and ask them to help you advocate for lead-free drinking water at schools.

2. Circulate a petition among parents and community members and deliver the signatures to your school board at their next meeting.

Download a sample petition to your school board or other decisionmaker.

Download an alternative sample petition to your school board or other decisionmaker — where schools have not yet tested for lead.

3. Video: To help spread awareness, here is a short video about lead in schools’ drinking water that you can share and like on Facebook and other social media.

4. Sample tweets: To help raise visibility online:

As @[yourtown] goes #backtoschool, we know kids run better unleaded. Help #GetTheLeadOut of water at our schools.

Contaminated water @[yourtown] schools? Time for @[LOCAL DECISIONMAKER] to #GettheLeadOut. [INSERT LINK TO YOUR LOCAL PETITION]

There’s no safe level of lead. As our children head #backtoschool, get the facts on safe drinking water from @EnvAm @uspirg [LINK TO TOOLKIT]

As our kids head #backtoschool, here’s a quick homework assignment for parents: watch this video about lead in schools’ drinking water.

5. Sample letters to the editor

TIPS: If possible, write your letter in response to a recent article. Adhere to any word limits, provide requested contact information and call the paper make the case for your letter to be printed.

Sample #1. If your school/district has already tested for lead: Show Sample | Download Sample

Sample #2. If your school/district has not tested for lead: Show Sample | Download Sample

Step 6: Don’t stop until your kids’ school gets the lead out


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