New “Back to School” Item for Parents: Toolkit to Get the Lead Out of Schools’ Drinking Water

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John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

Seattle – With “back to school” in full swing this week, Environment Washington Research and Policy Center today offered a new toolkit to help parents, teachers, and administrators Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water. Citing a lack of accurate information on lead contamination in water and how schools should prevent it, Environment Washington encouraged parents and teachers to put the new toolkit on their “back to school” reading list. 

“Our kids deserve safe drinking water at school,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Director. “We want to give parents, teachers, and school administrators the tools they need to ‘get the lead out.’”

More and more schools are finding lead in their water. For example, 34 water systems in Washington State alone have identified unacceptable levels of lead. Maple Valley Elementary, Griffin School in Olympia, Shelton Valley Christian School, Skamania Elementary, and Washington State Patrol Academy are among those 34 contaminated water systems.

Moreover, such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg. As noted in the toolkit, most schools built before 2014 have plumbing and/or fixtures that can leach lead into drinking water. And at some older schools, the service lines that bring water from the mains in the street into buildings are made entirely of lead.

Environment Washington’s toolkit includes a factsheet, a video, sample materials to press for action, and links to additional resources, especially on technical questions like proper testing.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Dr. Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT, at the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders at the University of Washington. “There is no safe level of lead for children. We have an ethical responsibility to eliminate lead exposure from our children’s environment so they can reach and maintain their full potential.”

School districts are largely left to address lead contamination on their own, as current state law does little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. Washington State administrative code requires testing, but it is currently unenforced because there is no funding for it. Washington State requires no remediation, and allows lead in drinking water up to 15 parts per billion. Earlier this year, Environment Washington gave Washington a Grade of ‘F’ in addressing this threat to children’s health.

Seattle began testing the water at every one of its schools in 2004, a procedure that is repeated every three years. The Seattle School District has also set a lead action level that is lower than the national standard — 10 ppb — and any test that does not meet this threshold is investigated. More importantly, Seattle has taken concrete action to “get the lead out.” In 2006, the city’s voters approved capital funding that allowed replacement of drinking water lines at nearly a third of its schools. The district’s most recent school tests, conducted between 2013 and 2016, show that 97% of all tests passed district requirements. Furthermore, all school test results going back to 2004 are published on the district website.

“No parent should have to worry about their child drinking water with lead,” said Speight. “We have to do better. We owe it to our kids.”


Environment Washington Research and Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our water, air and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.