Resources Addressing Lead in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities
Information provided on this page is for schools or child care facilities that are not public water systems and receive their drinking water from a public water system. Schools and some child care facilities that provide their own water are regulated public water systems and are required to test for lead and other contaminants. Visit the PWS switchboard for more information.
Health Effects of Lead
Exposure to lead is a significant health concern. Lead is a toxic metal that has no known safe level. All sources of lead in the environments of children should be effectively controlled or eliminated. Lead exposures are most dangerous when the human body is rapidly growing; therefore the most sensitive populations are pregnant women, bottle-fed babies, and children under the age of six.
Lead affects almost every organ and system in the body. The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system, both in adults and children. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently considers blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 µg/dL) as “elevated”. Elevated blood lead levels in children are associated with lowered IQ, learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) encourages parents and caregivers to consider blood lead testing for their child if they belong to one or more of these at-risk populations. Learn more here.
How Lead Gets into School and Child Care Facility Drinking Water
Lead can enter drinking water from a building’s plumbing system, including lead solder, brass fixtures, water fountains, and lead or galvanized pipes. The amount of lead in drinking water depends on how corrosive the water is, the materials used to construct the plumbing fixtures, and how long the water has been in contact with lead in the pipes or fixtures. The longer water stands in the plumbing system, the more lead is absorbed.
Testing for Lead
Testing for lead is recommended, though not required, in schools and child care facilities that are not regulated as public water systems. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit to help facilities implement voluntary testing programs.
EPA recommends that facilities sample 250 milliliters (mL) of stagnant water from fountains and other outlets used for consumption. This maximizes the likelihood that the highest concentrations of lead are found because the first 250 mL are analyzed after overnight stagnation. Fountains should be taken out of service if the lead level exceeds 20 parts per billion (ppb). After initial use, lead concentrations are usually significantly less; and in many cases not detected in samples.
Free Testing for Public Schools and Child Care Facilities
DEQ offers free sample analysis for lead in schools and child care facilities that are not regulated public water systems. Tests are conducted through the Idaho Bureau of Labs (IBL), which is certified by EPA’s Drinking Water Office.
Visit the IBL website and fill out a supply request to order sample containers. IBL will send submittal paperwork with the sample containers. The same shipping container can be used to return the filled water bottles back to IBL.
Reducing Lead Levels
Routine prevention measures, as well as interim and permanent lead removal solutions, can help prevent exposure to elevated levels of lead. Schools should work closely with maintenance staff and any plumbers who may make repairs. Beginning in 2016, the Idaho Division of Building Safety added water fountains as part of their routine inspections of public schools.
Routine Control Measures
- Clean faucet aerators regularly.
- Use only cold water for food and beverage preparation. Hot water will dissolve lead more quickly than cold water and is likely to contain increased lead levels.
- Instruct students and staff to run the water briefly before drinking.
- Run all indoor faucets and water fountains before students arrive each morning to remove stagnant water that may have been in contact with interior plumbing for extended periods of time.
Interim (Short-Term) Control Measures
If initial sample results from a tap or fountain exceed 20 ppb, interim measures can be taken while you wait for follow-up test results or until a permanent solution has been put in place. In addition to the routine control measures listed above, consider providing bottled water and/or shutting off problem taps and/or fountains.
If initial and follow-up sample results from a tap or fountain exceed 20 ppb, you should examine permanent options for lead reduction. Some examples include:
- Replace fixtures with new “lead-free” products.
- Add point-of-use filtration devices certified to remove lead.
- Check for grounding wires attached to water pipes. An electrical current may accelerate the corrosion of lead in piping materials.
- Replace lead pipes, if present.
- Reconfigure building plumbing to bypass sources of lead contamination.
- Add automatic flushing valves to reduce water stagnation.
Informing the Public About Lead
In addition to testing for lead and remediating problems, a lead control program should also include a public information component. Any school conducting lead sampling should make the results publicly available due to the health effects of lead. If any lead exposures are identified, you should also inform all parents, teachers, students, and employee organizations of the activities being pursued to correct the problems found.
You should choose the best method(s) to communicate with the public. This may include a press release, letters or fliers, mailbox or paycheck stuffers, newsletters, meetings/presentations, web site posting, or email. When providing sample results, you should also provide a basis for interpreting and understanding the significance of those results. Public notification examples are provided in the 3T’s document below.
- EPA’s Lead in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities
- 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Revised Technical Guidance
- 3Ts Toolkit for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities