Lead in the Water

Statewide Data Reveals Elevated Levels of Lead in School Drinking

A new report by Environment Washington found that more than 60 percent of drinking water taps in schools that were tested for lead had elevated levels of lead, above 1 part per billion (ppb). Of the 199 schools and preschools tested, 97 percent had at least one tap where lead was detected at 1 ppb in the water. Recognizing that there is no safe level of lead, especially for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging schools to limit lead in drinking water to 1 part per billion.


Environment Washington

Executive Summary

Lead is highly toxic, especially for children. In the wake of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, many communities across the country have tested for and found lead in their drinking water – even in schools, where our children go to learn and play each day. But until recently, we did not have data confirming this serious health hazard in Washington’s schools. Now we do.

Recent state legislation has caused the Washington State Department of Health to test for lead in schools across the state and the results are shocking.

By reviewing this data, here is what we found:

  • Of the more than 8,630 taps tested at Washington schools and preschools, 60.8% had lead levels of 1 part per billion (ppb) or greater.
  • Of the 199 schools and preschools tested, 97% had at least one tap where lead was detected at 1 ppb or greater in the water.
  • Notably high lead levels are 269 ppb at Washington Elementary in the Auburn School District, 200 at Nine Mile Falls and 192 ppb at ISOM Elementary, among others.

In all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in school water are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing, or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.

According to the EPA, even low levels of lead can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hyperactivity. Lead exposure has even been linked to damaging children’s central and peripheral nervous systems. More than 24 million children are at risk of losing IQ points due to low level lead exposure. Lead in water is a health problem across the country, yet most school districts and states are not taking the health-protective steps to reduce kids’ exposure to lead to the lowest possible level.

Washington’s children deserve safe drinking water, especially at school where they go each day to learn and play. As these test results show, our state and local decision-makers should take immediate action to get the lead out. We need policies in Washington to “get the lead out” such as proactively removing lead-bearing parts of schools’ water systems and installing filters certified to remove lead on every outlet used for drinking or cooking. Washington needs to adopt a 1 ppb standard for lead in school water, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

These findings indicate that lead is a problem in Washington schools’ drinking water systems, and that significant action is needed. Washington State and communities across Washington State should:

  • Proactively get the lead out of schools by removing lead service lines and other lead-bearing parts of schools’ water systems;
  • Install and maintain filters certified to remove lead on taps and fountains used for cooking or drinking;
  • Adopt a 1 ppb limit for lead in schools’ drinking water as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and immediately remove from service any taps where testing indicates lead in excess of this level;
  • Require testing at all water outlets annually using protocols designed to capture worst-case lead exposure; and
  • Disclose all specific test results and plans for remediation and provide funding to ensure schools have the resources to take the steps outlined above.

The federal government should:

  • Enforce and strengthen federal rules to protect all drinking water from lead;
  • Provide substantial funding to help states and communities remove lead in water infrastructure, including in schools and;
  • Marshal the authority of all relevant federal agencies to protect public health from contamination of drinking water.