Water Safety in California Public Schools Following Implementation of School Drinking Water Policies
In 2017, California enacted AB 746 to improve school drinking water safety by mandating testing for lead in tap water. The law required public water utilities to work with schools to create a drinking water sampling plan and to perform sampling at taps for analysis by an accredited laboratory.
Water Safety in California Public Schools Following Implementation of School Drinking Water Policies, published in Preventing Chronic Disease in December 2020, investigates overall tap water safety and describes AB 746 implementation in a random sample of 240 California public schools.
Key study findings include:
16% of study schools received water from a utility that was in violation of health-based standard(s) for drinking water at time of the study.
72.5% of study schools completed lead testing and reported results within 3.5 months after the deadline for compliance with AB746.
3% of schools that tested for lead had at least one sample exceeding 15 ppb of lead (CA state action level); 16% of schools had at least one sample exceeding 5 ppb (FDA lead limit for bottled water).
Sampling plans and data collection showed room for improvement:
o 8% of taps tested were in locations unlikely to be frequented by children.
o Only 39% of schools tested a water source in their food service area.
o 1/3 of tested taps were labeled in a way that made them unidentifiable.
Rural schools were over 3 times less likely to test their taps for lead.
The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University, University of California Nutrition Policy Institute and Virginia Tech and funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy Eating Research program. The study is the first peer-reviewed work to examine overall water quality in schools using both data on health standards compliance for water systems and results of tests for lead in drinking water, after implementation of a state mandate to test for lead in school drinking water.
The authors also highlight some best practices for current and future policies designed to address lead in school and childcare drinking water, as well as for policy implementation in order to improve school tap water safety.