Get the Lead Out

Lead Contamination in Montana Public Schools

School records reveal widespread lead contamination in Montana's public schools. 


Environment Montana Research & Policy Center

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 so toxic that experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend a health standard of 1 part per billion for water in schools.

Montana’s urban schools have a lead problem. 

While most Montana schools are not required to test for lead in drinking water, some school systems voluntarily test. This year, we submitted records requests for the most recent test results from districts in Montana’s four largest cities: Billings Schools, Missoula County Schools, Great Falls Schools, and Bozeman Schools.

The results were shocking: three quarters (75.1%) of the districts’ tests found some level of lead in the water.

Our rural schools might be even worse.

A total of 104 schools throughout the state serve as their own utility and are required to conduct regular mandatory lead testing. These schools generally draw their drinking water from wells, and they tend to be in the more rural districts across the state.

In the past ten years, these school-utilities found lead in 78% of the 423 samples they tested. Some of the results were especially troubling: one sample from Jim Darcy School in Lewis and Clark County tested at 244 ppb – sixteen times the mandatory EPA cut-off for water utilities.

It’s time to get the lead out. 

The science is clear: there is no safe level of lead exposure for our children. We need policies strong enough to get the lead out of Montana’s schools, including:

  • Adopting a 1 ppb standard for lead in school drinking water, immediately removing from service any faucet or fountain where this level is exceeded;
  • Requiring testing at all water outlets used for drinking and cooking at schools,
  • Immediately installing filters certified to remove lead at all faucets and fountains in Montana schools;
  • Pro-actively removing lead-bearing parts from schools’ water delivery systems to ensure lead-free water
  • Disclosing all available information about test results and remediation onsite and online.