School is starting soon, and it is important that we keep our children healthy. Lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children. Even at low levels it impairs how they learn, grow, and behave. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “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.”
In light of this alarming data, public health experts and agencies now agree: There is no safe level of lead for our children. It is important that we get the lead out of our children’s’ drinking water now- especially in our schools.
Virginia’s Get the Lead Out score: D
Virginia received a D in Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center’s latest assessment of laws and regulations pertaining to lead contamination of schools’ drinking water.
Virginia has a relatively weak “test and fix” law for schools, with a 10 ppb limit for lead in water. Testing of school drinking water taps is to be done in accordance with EPA or Dept. of Health guidance, with frequency unstated in the law. Some unspecified form of remediation is required.
The law only requires disclosure of test results above the lead limit. This gives the public an incomplete picture of water contamination. The law only applies to local school boards, not private schools or child care facilities. Our children need safe drinking water and there is a lot Virginia can do.
What has Virginia done to Get the Lead Out?
Virginia does not have enough policies to ensure our children’s schools have safe drinking water. In 2017, a law was passed that required public schools constructed in 1986 or earlier to test.
- In Chesterfield County, ten drinking fountains across eight schools had lead.
- Richmond shut down two of their elementary school water fountains.
- Petersburg found 14 contaminated water sources, and had them removed or taken out of service.
- In November of 2019, Virginia Beach City Public Schools found 51 contaminated water sources in 27 schools.
In 2022, the Virginia Department of Health launched a statewide voluntary Lead Testing in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Centers in Virginia program. This program is funded by the EPA, and if utilized can be a great way to identify the scale of the problem. However, there is no dedicated state or federal funding to fix and reduce the problem.
What Virginia can do to Get the Lead Out
We must stop lead from flowing through water fountains at schools. As more schools are testing for lead, we are able to see the scale of the issue. New state policies should require steps to prevent contamination at all school outlets. These policies could include installing filters certified to remove lead, bringing the lead limit down to 1 ppb, or replacing all lead service lines.
Even without new state policies, school districts can act now to ensure safe drinking water. Check out our toolkit on how to get the lead out of your child’s school.
Get the Lead Out
State Director, Environment Virginia
A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.