Schools Across the U.S. Find Elevated Lead Levels in Drinking Water

Schools in multiple states are tearing out water fountains and old faucets after finding elevated levels of lead in their drinking water.

Indiana tested 915 schools in recent months and found that 61% had one or more fixtures with elevated lead levels. Schools in Colorado and Florida, among others, are taking steps to address lead in drinking water.

Some testing is mandated by new state laws, as in Maryland. In Montgomery County, Md., outside Washington, D.C., the district is midway through replacing 238 fixtures that had elevated lead.

There isn’t a national standard for what level of lead, measured in parts per billion or ppb, is acceptable in school drinking water specifically. Districts and states are struggling to find individual solutions.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires public water systems to take action to reduce lead when more than 10% of samples from homes exceed 15 ppb. Its voluntary guidance for schools, set in the 1990s, states that schools should take individual water fountains and other fixtures out of service if lead exceeds 20 ppb.

Schools face a balancing act because cutting lead to lower levels is costly. Indiana’s statewide testing cost $4.7 million, said a spokeswoman for the Indiana Finance Authority, which paid for the program using state and federal funds.

“We have chaos around the country,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech. “Each school system is trying to find their own way.” Mr. Edwards, who helped uncover lead contamination in Flint, Mich., in 2015, sparking greater national awareness of the issue, called the voluntary EPA protocol “totally outdated.”

An EPA representative said the agency plans to update its guidance for public schools, possibly as early as this year.

Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body, and there is no safe level of lead in blood for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Last week, the Detroit public school system shut off water across the district, before its 47,000 students started school on Tuesday, after finding higher-than-expected levels of lead or copper at some schools. Officials said schools would pass out bottled water until new water coolers arrived.

In most cases, water problems are a result of old plumbing that contains lead, not municipal water supplies. Water that sits in school pipes over weekends or school breaks tends to have higher lead concentrations, experts say.

A July report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 43% of school districts it surveyed had tested for lead in 2016 or 2017. Of those, about 37% showed elevated lead in drinking water, as defined by the districts. About 41% of school districts hadn’t tested for lead in the 12 months before completing the survey, and 16% said they didn’t know if they had tested.

All school districts that detected elevated lead reported taking steps to reduce or eliminate the exposure, the report said, including by replacing water fountains, installing filters or new fixtures or providing bottled water.

In the past few weeks, Pueblo City Schools in Pueblo, Colo., concluded its first-ever water testing at its 31 schools. Of more than 580 water fountains and other fixtures tested, the district disabled or repaired 27 which had lead above 15 ppb, the EPA’s standard for public water systems.

“The majority of our schools are aging facilities,” said Dalton Sprouse, a spokesman for the district. Now that the district has its test results, he said, it can take further action if the EPA lowers its guidance for lead in water.

Indiana officials also chose a standard of 15 ppb lead and found that 8% of fixtures in schools statewide were above that level. In Warrick County, 11 of 17 schools had at least one fixture over the level.

Brad Schneider, superintendent for the Warrick County School Corp., said he immediately replaced the fixtures. “You can’t solve a problem when you don’t know you have a problem,” he said.

Laura Stewart, a parent and PTA leader in Silver Spring, Md., wants the Montgomery County Public Schools to follow Washington, D.C., and a handful of states to adopt a lead limit of 5 ppb in school drinking water. Tests in the district, the state’s largest with 206 schools, found 238 of 13,248 fixtures had lead above the 20 ppb threshold. Ms. Stewart said several thousand were above 5 ppb. She wants schools to flush water lines more regularly and use filters to be get below the 5-ppb level.

“Everything is constrained by money,” said Ms. Stewart, 47, who has two school-age boys.

Derek Turner, a spokesman for the district, said it is working with state health officials to explore using a lower lead limit.

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Lead crisis: Flint braces as Michigan shuts down free bottled water sites

After Michigan’s governor announced the state will stop providing free bottled water to residents of Flint — afflicted four years ago by lead-tainted drinking water — churches and charities said Monday they’re bracing for a surge in people seeking help.

“Normally we give out whatever a family wants,” said Bill Quarles, a deacon of the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. “But now we may have to limit that until more supplies come in.”

The church has been handing out bottled water for the past three years, and typically sees about 100 to 200 cars a week. With fewer resources for residents, First Trinity isn’t sure what to expect when the cars come through beginning Tuesday.


Much-needed donations from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Baltimore, Maryland, aren’t expected at the church until the weekend — and contributions have already been dwindling as water crisis no longer grabs daily headlines.

“The country thinks that the water is fine,” Quarles added, “but the residents and the city of Flint do not trust what’s being said.”

The state’s decision to close the four remaining bottled water stations comes as Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday that strides have been made to reverse the high levels of lead that were found in the water supply.

Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the crisis when the city’s drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan on March 5, 2016.Jim Young / Reuters file

The city’s water has tested below the federal lead and copper limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for about two years, state officials said. Levels of 4 ppb were recorded in Flint during the first three months of 2018.

“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” Snyder said in a statement, adding that state taxpayers have given more than $350 million to the struggling city, in addition to $100 million from the federal government.

“We will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward,” Snyder said.

Residents and local officials criticized the move, noting that many in the city of 100,000 remain distrustful after their water supply was contaminated with lead for 18 months. The contamination happened in 2014 and 2015 when officials of the financially strapped city switched to using river water that wasn’t properly treated.

That untreated river water leached lead from pipes into Flint’s drinking supply, and later tests showed high lead levels in some local schoolchildren.

The state of Michigan settled a lawsuit last year agreeing to spend $87 million to rip up and replace miles of waterlines leading to at least 18,000 Flint homes by Jan. 1, 2020. More than 6,200 homes have had their pipes replaced so far, Snyder said Friday.

The state will continue to provide free water filters, cartridges and water testing kits until all the lines have been replaced. In addition, a lawsuit deal with the state and school groups reached Monday could provide $4.1 million toward helping Flint children get necessary tests and screenings to determine any special education needs.

Kristin Totten of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said the agreement is a “critical first step,” but there’s still more litigation over Flint children with disabilities.

Direct access to clean water, meanwhile, remains a serious concern.

“Over the past few weeks, residents of Flint have been expressing their great anxiety over the potential end to the supply of bottled water,” Mayor Karen Weaver wrote in a letter to state officials on Thursday. “Free bottled water should be provided to the people of Flint until the last known lead-tainted pipe has been replaced.”

The fallout from the contaminated water crisis prompted criminal charges last year against several state officials for involuntary manslaughter after a Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Flint area led to the deaths of at least 12 people in 2014 and 2015.

Among those implicated are Nick Lyon, the state’s health chief, and Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical officer charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. Preliminary hearings were held last month in their cases.


Flint resident Barbara Davis, a secretary at Mt. Calvary Church, one of the houses of worship providing free bottled water, said there remains acrimony toward the state.

“There’s still the concern, there’s still the frustration,” Davis said. “The water still needs to be provided by the state until people are comfortable with what they’re saying. After everything, you begin to be mistrustful of what we’re being told.”

Flint resident Melissa Mays — who filed the lawsuit that led to a court-ordered agreement under which the state and federal governments are paying to replace pipes made from lead or galvanized steel — said she still cooks with bottled water.

“My water stinks. It still burns to take a shower,” she told The Associated Press. “There’s no way they can say it’s safe.”

Flint resident Mary Corbin told that she also uses water in bottles for more than just drinking or cooking, but her personal hygiene as well.

“I think it’s really cruel what they’re doing to us as a city, as a whole,” she said. “We’ve been struggling over four years almost. It’s just cold-hearted — now they’re taking our drinking water away from us.”

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National Healthy Schools Day Focuses on Lead in the Indoor Environment

In its 16th year now, National Healthy Schools Day seeks to inform the public of health risks that can affect children in educational and child care settings

Dirty Drinking Fountain - National Healthy Schools Day

April 3, 2018, Clearwater FL — The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that 50% of all schools have problems with indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ issues can be comprised of a complex mix of sources including aging facility infrastructure, deferred maintenance, fouled HVAC systems, dirty ducts, and the use of toxic products for cleaning, among other contributing factors. Every year since 2002, National Healthy Schools Day mission is to inform the administrators and public on these vital issues in an effort to bring awareness and change to the maintenance and safety of educational institutions across the country. The EPA urges schools to “Use the day to take the necessary steps to effectively manage the indoor air quality in your schools, ensuring you are providing your students and staff with a healthy learning environment.”

National Healthy Schools Day 2018 LogoThe focus of National Healthy Schools Day 2018is lead. According to the EPA, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics there is no safe level of lead for any child. Like many other indoor environmental hazards common to schools, lead has long been ignored. However, more schools and child care facilities are becoming more proactive on lead, especially in drinking water. But the fact remains that lead is ubiquitous throughout an educational environment such as in building and instructional materials, as well as other products and even the soil on the property’s grounds.

“It is time to put children first and end lead and other risks to all children in school and child care,” said Claire Barnett, Executive Director of Healthy Schools Network, the national not-for-profit that co-founded and hosts Healthy Schools Day. She added, “For the 16th annual Day, we thank all the education and health leaders and staff in the states who have recognized the high cost of lead and other toxics to the future of children and are taking action to find and to reduce risks in school and child care settings.”

The good news is more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of optimal IAQ in the learning environment. This year a record number of 59 NGOs nationwide are engaged in the event.

Who is most affected?

Across the U.S. over 55 million children and 7 million adults occupy 130,000 public and private schools. Add to that another 11 million children in child care facilities. All totaled, over 1/5 of the U.S. population is in one of these institutions on a daily basis. Today there are fewer public schools than in year’s past, but more children in them and with less federal and state funding. Schools in disadvantaged communities are often in the worst condition from an architectural and infrastructure standpoint. This can likely correlate to these facilities having the most lead in their buildings’ paint and water systems.

What can be done to improve IAQ?

The first step to finding and fixing IAQ issues is to have a proactive administrative and facilities team willing to invest in the building health of their education institutions. This means having their facilities regularly tested, not just for lead but for the myriad of factors that can deteriorate the health of the indoor environment.

“One of our main focuses has been creating healthy learning environments so students can achieve higher academic learning in healthy buildings,” says Alan Wozniak, President of Pure Air Control Services, Inc., “Our Building Sciences team is constantly working with both k-12 and higher education institutions to proactively test and report on the IAQ in their facilities. If issues are found, the detailed reports provided are integral in the remediation process to get the building back to an optimal state of operations and a healthy learning environment.”

IAQ testing can encompass the entire building envelope or concentrate on a specific area on interest in a forensic level investigation of an issue. In the case of lead, water, surface and air samples can be taken from the indoor environment and sent to a laboratory for in-depth analysis. The lab can then qualify and quantify what is in the samples to help determine the severity of the issue in the specific locations where the samples were collected. Of course if concentrations are found and report the proper corrective remediation actions must be taken.

IAQ testing can also be conducted for other issues that can affect the health of a building and its occupants. Things like bacteria, dust mites, fungi (mold) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can all proliferate in the indoor environment. They often act as allergy and asthma triggers which can affect student performance and attendance. Dust and debris built up inside of the HVAC system not only contributes to these allergen triggers, but also can decrease the performance of the equipment which can lead higher humidity and CO2 levels within a building. Not to mention higher energy costs.

National Healthy Schools Day is an important advocacy event that helps bring awareness to the importance of good IAQ for educational institutions throughout the U.S. With this in mind, more schools should be encouraged to take a proactive approach to their indoor environment to ensure healthy facilities for their students and staff all year long.

Lights, mold, cleaners can cause ‘sick building syndrome’

 – A day at the office could be making some people sick. And when businesses have a problem, many call Francisco Aguirre’s company PureAir Control Services in Clearwater to fix it.

Think of them as sick building sleuths.

“‘Sick building syndrome’ is a term used to describe a combination of non-specific ailments that are temporarily associated with the workplace,” Francisco said. “I have seen buildings that are brand new, and they have not even been finished for occupancy and they are already experiencing indoor air quality problems.”

Discomfort can be caused by bacteria, fungi, dust, and believe it or not, lights.

“Lights can also give you headaches, watery eyes and things like that,” Aguirre explained.

But there could be something more to some people’s symptoms.

Dr. Richard Lockey, an indoor air quality expert and director of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida, believes there are other contributing factors.

“We have found that buildings are much cleaner in which people work than their own homes,” Lockey told us. “Some homes are so filthy that we can’t believe it when we go in and test what’s in the home. Yet people don’t complain about their homes, they complain about the building. So there’s a disconnect there.”

According to the World Health Organization, a third of all buildings have air quality concerns. But Dr. Lockey has a word of caution.

“It’s important for physicians and other healthcare professionals to properly evaluate these patients so you don’t inappropriately accuse a builder or owner of a building of something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

In the end, whatever you think is making you sick at work could be real or imagined, but both experts agree that poor air filtration in the workplace and at home can lead to some allergy-like symptoms.

Be sure to replace filters regularly, and make sure all ventilation systems are working properly.

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Children in Pennsylvania need to be tested for lead poisoning

Lead paint


Gov. Tom Wolf proposed last week that every Pennsylvania child under age 2 be tested for lead poisoning. As LNP reported, the governor called on the state Department of Health to work with the General Assembly and community partners to draft legislation to require universal testing statewide. Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of child lead poisoning in the country.

This is still an issue. It shouldn’t be but it is. It’s hard to believe that almost 40 years after lead paint was banned from use in housing, we’re still dealing with cases of children exposed to lead. But we are.

And unless Pennsylvania wants to hold the title of America’s Lead Poisoning Leader, we need to do something about it. The sooner the better.

In Lancaster County, at least 11 percent of children tested were found to have elevated lead levels in their system, LNP’s Susan Baldrige reported last week. The children whose levels were elevated were found to have 5 or more micrograms of lead in their system, ranking the county one of the worst in the state and among the worst in the country — worse even than Flint, Michigan, where children were poisoned by lead in drinking water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a level of 5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in young children is considered extremely serious.

Lead paint is common in pre-1978 buildings, which are prevalent in Lancaster. Sources of lead can be old paint, plumbing fixtures and water.

Pennsylvania is behind only Minnesota in the number of children with elevated lead levels.

All children in the commonweatlth should be tested and we support the governor’s plan to do so.

“This is an excellent idea that will help protect children in Pennsylvania,” Susan Eckert, executive director of the Partnership for Public Health, told LNP. “Universal testing is a requirement in other states, like Maryland. It would identify children who have lead poisoning but were never suspected to have it.”

As it stands, less than 30 percent of children under the age of 2 in Pennsylvania have been tested, according to the state Department of Health.

If children with elevated lead levels can be identified, they can be treated, which is critical because, as Baldrige reported, even small amounts of lead in a child’s system can cause serious cognitive, learning and behavioral issues that will last a lifetime.

“I think people should recognize by doing nothing about this problem we are decreasing the intellectual ability of thousands of children in Pennsylvania,” Dr. Marilyn Howarth, an environmental toxicology physician at the University of Pennsylvania, told LNP.

Parents also need to be involved in this process. As Dr. Rachel Levine, acting secretary of health and physician general, said last week, parents should talk to their pediatricians and identify risk factors. Even limited exposure to lead can be dangerous.

Community health nurses provide education to parents and also help monitor children whose lead levels are identified as high. The department also operates a toll-free lead information line, 1-800-440-LEAD (5323), to provide information and referrals for concerned parents or professionals.

Universal testing makes sense and we hope the Department of Health and the Legislature can work together to draft a bill that requires testing for children under 2. It’s pretty clear, based on recent history, that testing will not become a priority without legislation.

Testing rates varied greatly from county to county in 2015, from 12 percent of children to 47 percent.

But only 16 percent of Lancaster County children were tested for lead in 2015. And the county has the fourth highest population of children 2 years of age and younger in the state — some 14,500 children in that age range.

A Journal of Pediatrics study indicated that about 1.2 million children in the U.S. were estimated to have had elevated blood lead levels between 1999 and 2010.

Pennsylvania trails other states in measures to protect children from lead exposure. Nineteen states have passed laws intended to do just that — from requiring the testing of children to making sure the water sources in schools and day care centers are safe.

Prevention and remediation efforts can be effective and should be part of the solution. For example, in January, Lancaster stopped the opening of three day care centers in the city after discovering unsafe levels of lead, its first enforcement of a new law aimed at protecting children.

The governor’s proposal is reasonable and it’s up to our General Assembly to draft legislation as quickly as possible so children get tested.

Lead poisoning might be an old problem but it’s still here, mainly because we’re not doing enough to get rid of it.

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Landlords Still Paid Amid Kids’ Lead Poisoning in CHA Homes

HICAGO (AP) — Taxpayers are still paying landlords as dozens of children are being poisoned by brain-damaging lead while living in homes and apartments declared safe by the Chicago Housing Authority.

Federal law requires the CHA to inspect subsidized homes before families move in and at least once a year afterward. But a newspaper analysis showed that for the past seven years, at least one child has been diagnosed with lead poisoning in 187 homes the housing authority approved for occupancy, the Chicago Tribune ( reported.

The analysis found that the CHA paid the landlords of the hazardous homes over $5.6 million in federal rent subsidies, with nearly $1 million of that delivered to landlords who were facing housing code violations or lawsuits regarding deteriorating lead-based paint.

Young kids remain at risk because the housing inspectors only check visually for cracked and peeling lead-based paint, instead of confirming hazards with dust swabs or hand-held scanners. The CHA does not consider lead paint a “life-threatening” hazard that landlords must immediately fix in order to collect taxpayer subsidies through the Section 8 voucher program.

The majority of subsidized rentals are in low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhoods on the West and South sides of the city. Harvard University sociologist studying the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side calls lead paint a “pathway through which racial inequality literally gets into your body.”

CHA officials have been saying that they are working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a new “proactive approach” to the inspections. But the agency’s renewed guidelines for the voucher program in February showed no changes to its inspection procedures.

“By failing to do anything about the lead, they are making crippled children who are going to grow up to be crippled adults,” said Tolanda McMullen, the mother of a child who was poisoned while living in a home approved by inspectors. “They don’t even have a chance because it was taken from them when they were babies.”

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