The Environmental Protection Agency’s Goal for lead in drinking water is 0. It is widely agreed that any lead exposure causes permanent harm to children in the form of decreased IQ, behavioral difficulties, and other issues. Because of the substantial health problems associated with lead exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommended action level for lead in drinking water of 1 ppb. This recommendation is close to the goal of 0, and can be detected by state-of-the-science laboratory equipment.
Fast forward to spring 2019. If approved, the proposed rule would require childcare centers that identify elevated lead levels to eliminate the lead source. The state agencies overseeing childcare will provide proactive educational guidance on adopting “clean water habits.”
The good news is there are straightforward, low-cost solutions to eliminate the problem. At RTI, we’ve been collaborating with NC Child, the NC Division of Public Health, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, Duke University Environmental Law & Policy Clinic, and childcare centers themselves to put resources in place, standardize testing and communication protocols, and to develop simple, cost-effective recommendations to remove lead. Depending on the source and scope of the problem, childcare providers can:
- Post signage at taps to designate appropriate use (e.g., handwashing only; Use for cooking only);
- Make sure to use only cold water, even for cooking or hot beverages;
- Flush water after periods of inactivity for at least 1-2 minutes;
- Clean the faucet aerator periodically;
- Install and maintain a filter certified to remove lead;
- Replace problem faucet fixtures and purchase non-brass fixtures;
- Fix plumbing problems or clogs that reduce water flow, and
- Retest water taps after renovation, fixture changes, or water source changes.
Making these changes will mean protecting over 230,000 North Carolina babies and young children from exposure to toxic lead in the water used for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. The point of the study, and the proposed rule, is to help everyone adopt “clean water habits” that aim for lead-free water for children. The best way to protect kids from lead exposure is to remove the source, rather than waiting until an elevated blood level is found at the doctor.
The proposed rule is now open for public comment, until August 2, 2019.
Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, MSES, MPA, CHMM, is a senior environmental health scientist and chemical risk assessment specialist at RTI International, and co-project director of the Clean Water for Carolina Kids (CWCK) study. Keith Levine, PhD, is a senior director of analytical sciences and co-project director of CWCK. Anna Aceituno, MSPH, and Kristin Litzenberger, MS, act as co-project coordinators. Our cross-institute study team included a dedicated group of laboratory and environmental health science professionals. This study was made possible by the generous support of RTI strategic investment funds.
Please note that there is also a separate bill currently in the state legislature that would require lead in drinking water testing for schools in North Carolina that cites our study and is using a modified version of our protocol in the bill. This bill is designed to help address NC’s failing grade for addressing lead in school drinking water.