It’s Time to Get Lead out of School Drinking Water, Says CALPIRG

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Jason Pfeifle

Sacramento, CA – Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, CALPIRG today launched a new campaign for Lead-Free Schools. A new analysis by CALPIRG Education Fund and Environment California Research and Policy Center gave California a grade of “F” for failing to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. Assemblymember Blanca E.Rubio (D-48, Baldwin Park), Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-80, San Diego), and Dr. Lauren Gambill, a pediatrician representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, all joined CALPIRG in calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in California’s schools.

Assembly Bill 885, introduced by Assemblymember Blanca E. Rubio, would require certified filters to remove lead at every tap in schools used for drinking or cooking, to conduct initial testing for lead, and mandated testing to be conducted every year thereafter.

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to grow and learn, but California is failing to protect our kids from lead in drinking water,” said Assemblymember Blanca E. Rubio. “Kids’ developing brains are particularly vulnerable to highly toxic lead so we must get the lead out now.”

 As more California schools test their water, they are finding lead. For example, tests recently revealed lead tainted drinking water at three San Ysidro elementary schools. Sacramento State also recently shut down 85 drinking fountains, bottle-filling stations, and sinks after tests exposed elevated lead levels in the water. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified School District has yet to fully address long-standing lead threats at a number of its schools.

“No parent should have to worry about their child drinking water with lead,” said Jason Pfeifle CALPIRG Public Health Advocate. “We have got to do better than that. We owe it to our kids.”

A new report by CALPIRG Education Fund and Environment California Research and Policy Center shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the report cites new data from Massachusetts, where half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school.

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

All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that can leach lead into drinking water. In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that bring water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead.

Last year, thanks to the leadership of Senator Connie Leyva, California passed a law to eliminate lead service lines, which was an important step forward. However, we still need to establish an enforceabl timeline for lead pipe replacement particularly at schools.

In the meantime, current law in California does far too little to protect children from lead in drinking water at school. California has no legal requirement to test water at schools. The state also has no law mandating schools to remediate if lead is detected in school drinking water at 1 part per billion or higher, which is the safety standard recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics. In CALPIRG Education Fund’s comparison of 16 states, these shortcomings gave California an “F.”

“We were disappointed to find that California’s policies fail to protect children from lead at school. Our kids deserve better,” said Jason Pfeifle CALPIRG Public Health Advocate.

Legislation recently introduced by Assemblymember Rubio (AB 885) and Assemblymember Gonzalez Fletcher (AB 746) would fix California’s ineffective policies. By requiring testing and certified filters at all schools, these bills would help ensure all kids have access to lead-free drinking water at school.

In the meantime, the State Water Board recently announced a free, voluntary lead testing program for schools. School officials should get their water tested right away, and take action if lead levels are 1 part per billion or higher.


CALPIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society



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