70 groups support action to get lead out of school drinking water by School District of Philadelphia

Media Contacts
Emma Horst-Martz

Advocate, PennPIRG Education Fund

PHILADELPHIA– On May 4th, administrators from the School District of Philadelphia presented the 2022-2023 budget for City Council and announced a detailed plan to replace old water fountains with lead filtering hydration stations by 2025. Following the announcement, PennPIRG Education Fund, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, and the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality, released a letter co-signed by 70 community organizations. The letter calls on district leaders to address the threat of lead in school drinking water. The recommendations put forth by the organizations appear to mirror the steps announced by Dr. Hite at the May 4th presentation to city council.

“Schools should be safe places where our kids go to learn, achieve, and grow up to be productive citizens in society,” stated PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center Executive Director David Masur. “Instead, the pervasive threat of lead in drinking water still faces Philadelphia kids when they enter our school buildings. It’s encouraging to see district officials address this threat by allocating funds towards hydration stations in all schools.”

District officials announced their plan to allocate $6.2 million to replace 800 antiquated drinking fountains that pose a threat to lead contamination from drinking water with new, lead-filtering hydration stations. The district has already taken this step with 1,300 outlets installed, and by doing this, they are committing to have 2,100 drinking fountains that pose a threat to lead contamination to be fully replaced district wide by 2025.

As the letter states, this project can be paid for with less than 1% of the federal stimulus money the district received last spring. 

“The district’s allocation of $6.2 million toward hydration stations is an important step towards ensuring that all students in Philadelphia have safe water to drink,” said Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Advocate. “It is clear that the community is concerned about lead contamination and we look forward to working with the district and City Council until this project is complete.”

The letter follows up on a report released by the groups in February, which compiled data from the school district’s water testing program. The results showed that 98% of schools tested had at least one outlet in the building test positive for lead in the water, and 61% of all outlets tested across the school district had lead contamination. 

“Budgets and legislation are moral, even theological, documents that expose the heart of leaders and the soul of our politics—what we hold to be sacred,” said Pastor Willie Francois, President of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. “If we follow the money committed to safe drinking water, SDP communicates loudly a devotion to guaranteeing schools are sanctuaries for children.“

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause learning disabilities, organ damage and lifelong health problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that there is no safe level of lead exposure and it is particularly dangerous for young children who are still growing. Kids spend much of their day in school buildings, many of which have old lead pipes, faucets, and components. 

In response to the report’s findings, City Councilmember Helen Gym introduced Bill 220221 in March. This proposal would require the school district to install the remaining hydration stations by 2025, codifying the district’s stated plan into city law. 

“In 2022, it’s not too much to ask that schoolchildren have drinking water that is entirely lead free – in fact, it should be essential,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “I am honored to have worked alongside PennPIRG and PennEnvironment on this legislation and campaign since 2016. The campaign for clean, safe, and lead free water has not only resulted in what we expect to be a swift victory, but also kickstarted a billion dollar school modernization efforts for the first time in decades. We will continue to organize with school communities across this city, fighting for healthy learning environments for every student.”

The 70 organizations who delivered the letter include Our City Our Schools, POWER Interfaith, Parents United for Public Education, Conservation Voters of PA and others.

“Providing timely public access to data and information is a critical element in the ability of stakeholders to know and understand what we need to know about the conditions in our public schools,” said Jerry Roseman, Director of Environmental Science Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund. “Using the power of information about lead contaminated drinking water in Philly schools, a diverse coalition of groups was able to come together to successfully recommend an effective solution to protect our kids and to work with Council Member Gym to get Bill 220221 introduced.  We need to stay involved to ensure that implementation is done well and sustained.”


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironmentCenter.org

PennPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) 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 interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing. To learn more, visit our website at www.pennpirgedfund.org.  

The Black Church Center for Justice and Equality is a non profit organization with the mission to reaffirm the social justice tradition of the Black Church by providing a platform for progressive theological debate, public policy advocacy, and public engagement that amplifies the voices of progressive African-American faith leaders. For more about BCC, visit https://theblackchurch.net/.