‘Filter First’ campaign announced to fully remove lead from all drinking water in schools

Media Contacts
Alexandra Simon

Former Public Health Advocate, CoPIRG Foundation

Public health advocate Alex Simon gave public comment at the Denver Public Schools School Board Meeting on 12/12/22 on behalf of the Filter First campaign, which asks school boards to proactively install lead-removing filters for all drinking and cooking water sources:

“Good evening, my name is Alex Simon, public health advocate with CoPIRG. I’m here today to ask you to ensure all kids in DPS schools have access to lead-free drinking water by replacing all drinking and cooking water outlets with lead-removing filters in the next 18 months. With the current availability of federal and state funding as well as the upcoming data collection required under the state bill, DPS has an unprecedented window of opportunity to act proactively and set the bar as a leader in children’s health and safety.

I’d like to take this opportunity to THANK YOU for the efforts the district has made so far to identify lead in water and replace contaminated sources. I know that since 2016, DPS has tested over 9,000 samples and repaired or replaced several hundred fixtures. I applaud your efforts to tackle the issue and remain in compliance with standards set by the EPA – thank you. 

However, the current law and approach to lead remediation does not fully ensure we are providing lead-free drinking water to our students. While recently passed state bill is an excellent step forward in addressing lead contamination – including critically needed resources for districts – using the testing and replacing methodology and 5 ppb threshold can unfortunately still allow for lead-contaminated water to reach our kids. 

Because lead contamination ebbs and flows within a water source, testing is an unreliable source of detecting the total contamination, and therefore likely to leave some lead-bearing faucets and fountains unremediated. According to major health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is NO safe level of lead for children. 

Filtering water at the source (or “filter first”) is the best way to ensure lead is fully removed from drinking water. Lead removing filters can be installed as part of a hydration station (like a water bottle filling station) as well as installed on sinks or faucets. 

We know funding, especially here in Colorado, is the major hurdle for schools to undertake projects like this. Luckily, there are significant resources available for school districts right now if they choose to act quickly. ESSR III funds and the EPA WIIN Grant: Reducing Lead In Drinking Water are two sources of federal funding that can be used for lead remediation, with 2023 grant applications opening up this spring. The Colorado state bill can fund or reimburse school districts for replacement of water sources over 5 ppb.

Come June 2023, all school districts in Colorado will be required to complete testing and  publicly share those results. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned, the more we test for lead in school drinking water, the more we find it.

We’ve known for decades that lead is highly toxic for kids and linked to nervous system damage and learning disabilities and mental health, including ADHD and depression. In fact, a 2021 study published found that 72% of Colorado children under 6 who were tested had detectable levels of lead in their blood – well above the national rate of 51% – and incredibly concerning given that no level of lead is safe for children. We know no amount of lead is safe, we have the technology to remove it, and we have the resources – giving DPS a unique and powerful opportunity to adopt a filter first policy and be a leader in the state in children’s health and safety. 

To achieve that, I request that you pass a resolution to replace all drinking and cooking water outlets with lead-removing filters within the next 18 months, and ensure all kids in DPS schools have access to lead-free drinking water. Thank you for your time.”

To learn more about lead in school drinking water and resources for school boards and parents, read Alex’s article on CoPIRG’s Filter First campaign.