The State Water Resources Control Board's Division of Drinking Water (Division), in collaboration with the California Department of Education, has taken the initiative to begin testing drinking water in schools (K-12) for lead. Schools may request assistance from their public water system to conduct water sampling for lead and to provide technical assistance if an elevated lead sample site is found. With 12.5% of US public school students (grades K-12) attending California public schools, this program potentially impacts one in eight US school children.
The move comes after mounting concerns over the lack of requirements for water quality testing in schools, especially after the disaster in Flint, Michigan. Lead rarely occurs naturally in California's drinking water sources, but may become present when water passes through older plumbing fixtures or solder containing lead that connects plumbing.
Consumption of unsafe water is a serious health risk to children as they are more vulnerable than adults to the health effects of exposure to lead and other contaminants.
“The state has taken action to protect kids from toxic water, and now we need students, parents, and school officials to take action by actually requesting lead testing at their schools,” said Asha Kreiling of Community Water Center. “And if we want to truly address the problem, the results of this lead testing need to be public, not hidden or difficult to access.”
Advocacy groups are continuing to track the creation of a program at the State Water Board to install safe water access points in schools. California allocated $9.5 million in funding from the 2016-17 state budget to improve access to safe water in schools, some of which may be used to support schools that discover lead contamination as a result of this new testing. The State Water Resources Control Board will manage an internal database of the test results.
Advocates are pleased that the state has taken this step to collect more school water quality data but say more work is still needed to ensure students have safe water. In addition to the need for a public data set on lead in school water, advocates say the state does not adequately track the quality of water access points at schools.