Local Groups Launch New Effort to Get Lead Out of Drinking Water at Oakland Schools

Media Contacts
Jason Pfeifle

Oakland, CA – In response to recent lead incidents at Oakland schools, local groups launched a new campaign today to get lead out of school drinking water in Oakland. School officials, parents, health advocates, and local supporters all joined CALPIRG in calling for Oakland Unified to adopt a comprehensive policy that will truly protect kids from these lead threats at school.

“No parent should have to worry about their child drinking water with lead,” said Roseann Torres, Oakland Unified School Board Member. “We have got to do better than that. It’s time to get the lead out.”

In August, stories broke about lead-contaminated water at McClymonds high school in West Oakland. The district took some measures to protect kids at McClymonds and began testing the drinking water at other schools. Those tests revealed lead-tainted water at seven more Oakland schools.

“As a parent, I’m surprised and dismayed at the fact that there are no filtered water stations where students can fill their water bottles or get a glass of water at the school where my son attends,” said Ayanna Davis, McClymonds Parent and Program Director of Healthy Black Families Inc. “I am also concerned about the slow response for creating water policies at each school and for the entire district”

“We need to get the lead out of all pipes, plumbing and fixtures at McClymonds, and at every school in California,” said Coach Ben Tapscott, Chair of the New McClymonds Committee.

Lead is highly toxic, especially to children. Even small exposures to lead can do permanent damage to children’s cognitive development. Recent research shows that at blood levels lower than 5 micrograms per deciliter, lead can still cause diminished intellectual and academic abilities, higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders such as ADHD, and poor growth in children.

“Lead is a potent toxin, proven to cause irreversible neurocognitive damage,” said Dr. Noemi Spinazzi.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

As more California schools test their water, they are finding lead. Just this year, tests have revealed lead-tainted drinking water at elementary and middle schools in counties throughout California, including San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Alameda. And a number of these incidents have been at historically underfunded schools in communities of color.

“We’re talking about the water in schools being dangerous to our kids,” said Vien Truong, CEO of Dream Corps, Director of Green For All. “Our families already have too much to worry about – they shouldn’t have to fear drinking water at schools. This is why we are fighting to ensure we enact policies that protect all of our kids from the awful, long-term effects of lead poisoning. Our children are counting on us to get this right.”

A report by CALPIRG Education Fund shows that confirmed cases of lead-laced water at California schools could be the tip of the iceberg. All too often, schools built before 2010 have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that can leach lead into drinking water. And current law in California does far too little to protect children from lead in drinking water at school. For decades, schools have not been required to regularly test their water for lead. The state also currently allows lead in school drinking water up to 15 parts per billion, which is 15 times the safety standard recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics.

“With huge gaps in state law, school districts must step up and adopt policies that will truly protect children from these lead threats,” said Jason Pfeifle, CALPIRG Public Health Advocate. “We need Oakland Unified to take strong action and prevent lead exposures before they happen.”

The group released a letter to Oakland Unified signed by over 20 state and local organizations, and joined together in calling on the district to adopt a comprehensive policy for getting lead out of school drinking water. Their policy proposal includes the following:

  1. Replace all lead-bearing pipes, plumbing, and fixtures at Oakland Unified schools
  2. Proactively install filters on all drinking water outlets until lead is completely removed from the water delivery systems of schools
  3. Test drinking water outlets regularly for lead
  4. Allow no more than 1 part per billion of lead in drinking water as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics
  5. Notify parents within 24 hours of a positive lead test result, and make all test results available to the public. 

“Our kids’ health is at stake,” said Jason Pfeifle from CALPIRG. “It’s time for Oakland Unified to get this done.”





CALPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being


Green For All is a climate and economic justice organization working at the intersection of poverty and pollution to create an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. Green For All is an initiative of The Dream Corps.