Statement: Texas gets an ‘F’ for efforts to get the lead out

Media Contacts
Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas

AUSTIN – Texas continues to flunk efforts aimed at stopping pervasive lead contamination of schools’ drinking water, according to a new report by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. But a proposed bill in the Texas Legislature could protect schoolchildren from this threat to their health.

“We were disappointed to find that Texas is sitting at the back of the class for protecting student’s drinking water,” said Environment Texas Clean Water Advocate Michael Lewis. “School is for learning and playing — not a daily dose of lead-tainted water. Our kids deserve better.” 

In the third edition of the Get The Lead Out study, Texas failed to meet every metric with the exception of public disclosures of test results and prohibiting testing protocols that are known to hide lead. A 2017 analysis found that 71% of Texas schools tested had lead in their water at one or more taps. 

Lead threatens our kids’ health, especially how they learn, grow and behave. “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,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nevertheless, current state law does far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. Texas has no law or regulatory requirements to address lead in schools’ drinking water. The state has a voluntary testing program, for which results are shown online. The voluntary testing program appears to have good sampling protocols, but they seem to be optional. In Texas’ comparison of all 50 states, these shortcomings gave the state a grade of F. 

House Bill 1123 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins would require Texas school districts to take stronger action to ensure safe drinking water, including through regular testing and remediation when lead is found. 

“The presence of lead in school drinking water is detrimental to the health, safety, and learning outcomes of our students.” said Rep. Gervin-Hawkins. ”It is unacceptable for any amount of lead to exist in school drinking water, and I am working hard this session to ensure that our students are being provided with safe, lead-free water.”

There are a number of ways schools can ensure safe drinking water and there are resources available to implement them. For example, schools can install filtered water stations, which eliminates a common source of lead and also captures lead coming from plumbing or pipes. Such measures would only cost a small fraction of the federal funding Texas schools are already receiving.

Some Texas school districts can serve as an example of action done right. In 2017, Austin ISD committed to installing filters certified to remove lead and, in 2022, Houston ISD 

committed to install water bottle filling stations with lead filters in every school and do additional testing and remediation at every school. 

Advocates see a near-term opportunity for safer school water as the EPA updates the nation’s Lead and Copper Rule this year.  For schools and child care centers whose water systems are federally regulated, Environment Texas is calling on the agency to require replacement of fountains with water stations and filters at all drinking water and cooking taps, and to set a 10-year deadline for water utilities to fully replace all lead service lines.


staff | TPIN

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