PennPIRG Education Fund
Over the past two years, the tragedy of Flint, Michigan has stunned the nation. We watched the drinking water of an entire city become contaminated with lead. And now we know this toxic threat extends well beyond Flint to communities across the country. In fact, test results now show that lead is even contaminating drinking water in schools and pre-schools — owing from thousands of fountains and faucets where our kids drink water every day.
In all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing, or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.
The health threat of lead in schools’ water deserves immediate attention from state and local policymakers for two reasons.
First, lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children — impairing how they learn, grow, and behave. So, we ought to be particularly vigilant against this health threat at schools and pre-schools, where our children spend their days learning and playing.
Second, current regulations are too weak to protect our children from lead-laden water at school. Federal rules only apply to the roughly ten percent of schools and pre-schools that provide their own water. Moreover, these rules only require remediation when testing confirms lead concentrations in excess of 15 parts per billion, even though medical and public health experts are unanimous that there is no safe level of lead for our children. The error of this approach is compounded by the fact that testing, even when properly done, often fails to detect maximum lead levels in water coming out of the tap.
An analysis by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and PennPIRG Education Fund gave Pennsylvania a grade of “F” when it comes to addressing lead in drinking water in the Commonwealth’s schools.