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National Healthy Schools Day 2020

Understanding & Responding to Lead in School Drinking Water

National Healthy Schools Day 2020 falls on April 7th. The National Healthy Schools partnership had planned to focus on “The Air we Breathe, the Water we Drink.” In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership pivoted to encouraging schools and districts to think about ways to take advantage of empty school buildings to perform maintenance tasks. National Healthy Schools Day 2020 also provides an opportunity to advocate for federal attention to health and safety conditions in our nation’s schools.

For example, in the House, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) and 211 co-sponsors have offered HR 865 – Rebuild America’s Schools Act, while in the Senate, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and 26 co-sponsors offered S.266 – Rebuild America’s Schools Act. Congress could restore or even expand funds to EPA for programs that improve environmental health in school settings and could ensure continued appropriations for programs to test for and remove lead in school and childcare drinking water through previously authorized programs.

Elevated levels of lead in school drinking and cooking water are but one of the challenges facing schools, but it is a challenge we know how to respond to.

Unless a school can boast 100 percent up-to-current-code plumbing, the only way to know if lead is present is by testing the water. The only nationwide look at results of school drinking water sampling for lead found that 44 percent of analyzed schools had at least one instance of lead above the state’s acceptable (“action”) level. They study also found that 12 percent of all analyzed samples had elevated lead. Analysis of individual states showed great variation both in lead findings and in how states approach the problem through policy and programs.

There are many good resources that boost understanding of lead in tap water and what to do about it—here are a few:

  • An interactive map allows you to click and read media reports of lead in tap water around the nation. Please email if you have a story that should be on the map

  • National Drinking Water Alliance partners prepared a 3-webinar series on school drinking water safety

  • Webinar 1: “Why are we talking about it? Drinking water and lead exposure”

  • Webinar 2: “Planning for school water quality: steps schools should take”

  • Webinar 3: “Solutions: Find it and fix it – or flush or filter it”

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