During Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, CoPIRG Foundation urges school districts to adopt ‘Filter First’ approach to kids’ drinking water

Media Contacts
Alexandra Simon

Former Public Health Advocate, CoPIRG Foundation

Experts agree there is no safe level of lead in drinking water

DENVER — During National Lead Poisoning Prevention Awareness Week CoPIRG Foundation launched a campaign to help school districts across Colorado ensure all children have access to lead-free drinking water at school. Despite a recent state bill HB22-1358 which requires most daycares and elementary schools to test water sources and replace those over a certain threshold of 5ppb, CoPIRG Foundation is calling for school districts to adopt a ‘filter first’ strategy rather than the current ‘test and replace.’

“We know that testing for lead in water is unreliable, and that levels can vary greatly from the same tap even within a given day,” noted public health advocate Alex Simon. “Filtering first is the best way to ensure all kids are drinking safe water while at school.” 

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that affects how children learn, grow and behave; according to all major health organizations, there is no known safe level of lead for children. Unfortunately, most schools and child care centers have lead in their faucets, fountains, pipes or plumbing, leading to widespread lead contamination of schools’ drinking water.  

Dr. Anderson cited personal examples of finding elevated levels of lead from a child drinking water from a lead-glazed bathtub, or another from chewing on a bracelet that came as a free gift with a pair of sneakers.  

The dangers of low level lead exposure can be difficult to detect and require a blood test. “It’s not until you get to very high levels that you start to see stuff that looks physically abnormal, like high blood pressure or acting abnormally,” Dr. Anderson noted. 

Because lead contamination ebbs and flows within a water source, testing is an unreliable source of detecting the total contamination, and therefore almost certain to leave some lead-bearing faucets and fountains unremediated.

According to environmental engineer Elin Betanzo, who worked with Michigan schools during the Flint water crisis, filter first is the best approach.

“When we look for lead in school water, we usually find it. Certified lead reducing filters take the guesswork out of water quality and provide an immediate source of safe water for children,” said Betanzo. 

Her personal experience at her daughter’s elementary school in Michigan found lead levels in the water ranging from below the 15 ppb state threshold to over 140 ppb from samples taken from the same tap one year later. 

To implement a filter first strategy, there are both  federal and state funding sources available, including ESSR III funds provided to schools from the American Rescue Plan Act, which can fund facility improvements that reduce exposure to environmental health hazards such as lead. 

Additional funding is available through the EPA WIIN Grant: Reducing Lead In Drinking Water, which provides grants for school districts to remove sources of lead in drinking water as well as state funding from this year’s bill, which can cover the cost of testing and replacing water sources over 5ppb. However, the CoPIRG Foundation  recommends districts  skip the process of testing and replacing, and adopt a policy to filter first. 

More information is available in CoPIRG’s Get The Lead Out Toolkit. Parents concerned about lead in their schools’ water should work with their school boards to:

  • Replace all water fountains with equipped lead-removing filters
  • Install point-of-use filters on all taps used for drinking, cooking, or beverage preparation
  • Clearly mark sinks that are not filtered as ‘hand-wash only’
  • After preventative steps are taken, test the taps to ensure levels do not exceed 1 ppb, the limit recommend by the American Academy of Pediatricians

“Children in Colorado have been exposed to lead in their drinking water for far too long. We have the facts, we have a simple technology that can fully remove lead, and we have the funding – now it’s time for school districts to act,” said Simon.