Clean Water For America

1 in 4 California child care centers have alarming levels of lead in drinking water

Alexandra Simon | Used by permission
Toddler drinks from an older water fountain, many of which contain lead parts.

New testing showed 1 in 4 California child care centers have alarming levels of lead in drinking water, putting babies and children at risk.

Lead is highly toxic to children- even exposure to very small amounts is linked to irreversible damage to a child’s brain, and can cause IQ loss, ADHD and anxiety disorders.  

Unfortunately, for decades lead was commonly used in plumbing, which means that many older buildings have pipes and fixtures that can leach lead into our drinking water. 

That’s why California has started an effort to test for and remediate lead in schools and childcare centers. Thanks to a 2017 state law, California schools were required to test for lead in drinking water and the most recently reported data revealed more than 2,100 school drinking water fountains tested positive for lead across 1,300 schools.  Then in 2018, Assembly bill 2370 by Assemblymember Chris Holden required similar testing in child care centers.

The results of childcare testing were released last month by the California Department of Social Services, and showed that 1700 child care centers had at least one tap over 5 parts per billion of lead. 

The highest levels of lead, at 11,300 parts per billion were detected at the La Petite Academy, in San Diego. These levels were 2,200 times the amount of lead that California allows in child care center drinking water. The levels are also comparable to some of the highest amounts of lead detected in Flint, Mich.

This is a huge problem. School and childcare centers are for learning and playing — not a daily dose of lead-tainted water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1ppb of lead in drinking water for children. The Center for Disease Control and the EPA agree that there is no safe level of lead for children. 

While California has taken several steps in the right direction, protecting our kids’ health requires prevention at every drinking water tap — and our state doesn’t make the honor roll.  In February CALPIRG Education Fund gave California a “C” grade on our Get the Lead Out report card because there is still a lot our state needs to get to address pervasive lead contamination of school and childcare center drinking water.

To address this problem, we recommend installing filtered water stations in all schools and child care centers. This eliminates a common source of lead (fountains replaced) and also captures lead coming from plumbing or pipes.

Some school districts have already taken this action. San Diego, Oakland, and Berkeley Unified have all committed to installing filtered water stations. We need more schools and child care centers to step it up, and we need state leaders to do more to address lead in our drinking water. 

Rather than wait for more testing to show that our kids have been drinking lead, we should be doing everything we can now to get the lead out.

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