- While few states require testing for lead in water, more than 40% of school districts have tested their buildings, and 37% of those districts have since taken corrective action to address high levels of lead, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, District Administration reports.
- Maryland is among states requiring testing, and Montgomery County Public Schools found 1.8% of the more than 13,000 water fixtures in its 206 schools had excessive levels, costing about a half-million dollars to correct. North Carolina doesn't require testing, but Charlotte-Meckenburg Schools has been voluntarily testing water quality at all schools built before 1986 and, for the first time, is reporting those results to parents.
- Experts recommend administrators “develop a comprehensive, transparent plan for water testing and communicating results.” Meanwhile, the National Resources Defense Council recommends parents also be proactive by pushing for testing, educating the public about the issue, and providing filtered water to children.
Many aging schools across the nation are in poor condition because of years of inadequate funding to build and maintain. In some cases, the results are mainly cosmetic, which can still affect student and teacher morale. But in other cases, the results are more harmful, impacting the health of students and interfering with their ability to learn.
One of the biggest concerns is lead exposure in schools, a problem that exists more in older and aging facilities. Lead exposure is a special concern in environments where children spend a great deal of time because children absorb lead at higher rates than adults. Continued lead exposure can result in a number of negative impacts that last well into adulthood.
"Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive, and irritable," according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth, and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.”
Though more states are seeing the need to require and pay for testing, school districts can still test on their own using grant funding, partnering with health departments or finding other ways to defray the cost. Once school districts determine that there is lead in the water, there are corrective measures that can be taken.
Some schools shut off affected water fountains while others go through costly plumbing repairs. However, many school districts, like Detroit, are finding that central water stations that filter the water at the site are a more cost-effective solution. These fountains can be paid for through funding sources like soda tax revenues and grants.