By: Sharon Franklin

In a November 5, 2018 Katie LaGrone and Matthew Apthorp of ABC Action News Tampa Florida, reported that “most Florida school districts don’t test for lead on campus”.  They reported that Florida law requires school officials to protect children’s health and safety, but the law does not require schools to sample for lead in drinking water.  Throughout the United States, there are only six states that require school systems to test for lead in drinking water.  They are California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.  Across the country and around the state of Florida, lead-contaminated drinking water has put schools in the spotlight and under the microscope.  In Florida’s Hillsborough County, 54 schools have tested above 15 parts per billion, the federal standard for action.   Water fountains at the school recently tested 50.5 parts per billion (ppb) and 73.7 (ppb), nearly four and five times above that federal standard. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels should not exceed one part per billion (1/ppb).

The lack of consistent lead testing at schools in Florida is a statewide failure spelled out in a 2017 Environment Florida Report, where the sunshine state got an “F” for failing to keep school water from becoming laced with lead.  Jennifer Rubiello, Executive Director of Environment Florida, a state advocacy group, said “lead testing is like Russian roulette”.

Believe it or not, there is no federal requirement for schools to test for lead in their water.  Only 43% of school districts in the United States are purported to say that they have tested their water for lead in 2016 or 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office, and 37 percent of those districts found at least some of the toxic metal.

In a report by the USPIRG Education Fund Environment America Research & Policy Center released in February 2017, Get the Lead Out Ensuring Safe Drinking Water for Our Children at School by John Rumpler and Christina Schlegel, they stated the health threat of lead in schools water deserves immediate attention from state and local policymakers.  They give two main reasons for this conclusion, (1) Lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children, impairing how they learn, grow, and behave.  (2)  Current regulations are too weak to protect children from lead-laden water at school.

Where are we now on this issue? Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has repeatedly delayed revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which had earlier stated that eliminating lead from plumbing materials is the only way to guarantee nobody will drink lead-tainted water.  .  However, while we wait, our children are being still being exposed to another lethal threat.   For additional information, see CHEJ resources fact sheets on water: http://chej.org/healthy-water-resources/