Lead in school drinking water
Lead in school drinking water continues to be a challenge for New Hampshire. Three years ago, Governor Sununu signed Senate Bill 247, the Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning. The law requires testing for lead in drinking water for all public and private schools and licensed childcare facilities.
As of April 2021, there are drinking water samples from approximately 600 public and private schools and 500 childcare facilities across the state of New Hampshire or about 23,000 samples. According to the bill, if test results demonstrate the presence of lead exceeding 15 parts per billion, the school or childcare facility shall notify parents and guardians within five business days.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states any lead contamination more than 1 part per billion should have immediate action. NH school testing results in 2019 showed the majority of reporting schools (85%) found lead levels over 1 part per billion in one or more locations, with a number of schools reporting lead levels more than 15 times higher than the AAP’s recommendation.
Health risks from lead in school water
According to the The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), there is no known safe level of lead exposure for children. Children exposed to lead could experience many long-term physical and mental growth and development issues, including:
- Brain damage
- Kidney and hearing problems
- Slowed body growth
- Lower IQ level
- Learning delays
- Reduced attention span
- Behavior problems
Children ages six and under are at particular risk of lead exposure because they absorb lead more easily than adults. While the effects of lead exposure can be managed, they cannot be remedied.
You can download the latest report lead in school water report from the NHDES here.
The NHDES recommends that schools on municipal water regularly take samples from every drinking water site including individual taps, water bubblers and coolers.
How lead gets into school water supplies
Lead rarely occurs naturally in water. Instead, lead from brass plumbing leaches into water as it moves through the system. Although the public drinking water supplied to most schools may meet federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, lead can still get into school drinking water.
If your school has its own public water system, the state requires a series of lead and copper samples. But if you’re not testing every drinking water point of use, you could have lead somewhere in your drinking water.
EPA effort for reducing lead in school drinking water
The EPA has a 3Ts toolkit for schools and child care facilities to help them implement a voluntary program for reducing lead in drinking water. The 3Ts consist of:
- Training officials to raise awareness of the 3Ts program and summarize the potential causes and health effects of lead in drinking water.
- Testing drinking water in schools and child care facilities to identify potential lead problems.
- Taking action to reduce lead in drinking water.
The EPA has a seven module toolkit for the 3Ts, but also offers some immediate action items for schools:
- Immediately remove drinking water coolers listed in EPA’s 3Ts as containing lead lined coolers. These were built before the 1986 Lead Free Act.
- Clean drinking water fountains and aerators (screens) regularly. Consider creating a cleaning time card that can be posted by the water fountains to allow the cleaning times to be recorded.
- Use only cold water for food and beverage preparation. Hot water will dissolve lead more quickly than cold water and is likely to contain increased lead levels.
- Make sure filters are maintained if being used. Ensure that the selected filter is certified to remove lead (or any other contaminants of concern).
- Create and post placards near bathroom or utility sinks noting the water should not be consumed. Use pictures if there are small children using bathrooms.
- Regularly flush all water outlets used for drinking or food preparation, particularly after weekends and long vacations when water may have been sitting for a long period of time.
NH testing for lead in school water
Testing is the only way to know if there are elevated levels of lead in your school’s drinking water. The certified water treatment experts at Secondwind Water Systems will help you test your school’s drinking water and, if needed, design a water treatment system. Contact us for a free site evaluation.