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The Importance of Testing and Taking Action to Get the Lead Out of Water

It’s no surprise that it’s important for infants and children to have access to safe drinking water. Yet the health of millions of our youngest citizens may be at risk because of toxic lead in the piping and plumbing of the childcare centers and schools where they learn and play. 

A 2017 community-based pilot study, led by RTI International and the Clean Water for Carolina Kids™ program, found that in 63% of childcare centers and schools tested, lead was present in water at levels above the American Academy of Pediatrics reference level (1 ppb). Since then, the program has tested the water at almost 4,000 childcare centers and found that 9% had lead at or above 15 ppb in at least one tap.

Testing every cooking or drinking water tap for lead is important because lead levels can vary from tap to tap, even within the same building. RTI’s Clean Water for US Kids™ program continues to provide water testing and recommendations for risk mitigation to schools and childcare centers.

So, what can be done to reduce lead exposure from water? Cheap and free solutions for keeping lead out of the water we drink include

  • Using only cold water for drinking or cooking. Don't start with the hot tap, even if you're going to boil it.
  • Flushing water at all taps used for drinking or cooking water, in the morning, after holidays or weekends, or after other times when a building is not in use. This clears out standing water in the pipes with fresh water.
  • Contacting a plumber promptly if you have a clog or decreased flow at a tap.

Additional options for any locations where tests showed lead in water:

  • Install and maintain a water filter certified to remove lead.
  • Replace the faucet fixture with a new stainless steel one.
  • Replace water fountains with a dual fountain and bottle filling station that has a built-in filter.
  • Designate another tap without detectable lead for drinking and cooking purposes.

While it will take years and money to fix aging water infrastructure, we can and should address childhood lead exposure now, using no-cost and low-cost solutions. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults and we can stop lead exposure in water, one drop at a time—even before we replace our lead pipes.

More on the Clean Water for US Kids™ Program

Today, Clean Water for US Kids™ is making critical advancements in protecting children from lead exposure. The program trains regular people as citizen scientists and uses a mail-out water quality test kit paired with an integrated online enrollment, training, analysis, reporting, and mitigation portal to help federal and state agencies, utilities, schools, childcare centers, and households conduct Pb in drinking water testing. Our approach is convenient, standardized, feasible, science-based, transparent, unbiased, and proactive.

Through this program, we’ve measured water quality in almost 4,000 schools and childcare centers across the nation, which serve over 200,000 children. We’ve helped 355 schools and childcare centers to identify and remediate problem taps. Additionally, we recommended simple no cost or low cost ways to reduce lead exposure from water to an additional 2,000 childcare centers and schools that had low levels of lead that were never-the-less still above the American Academy of Pediatrics reference level.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Andrew "AJ" Kondash (Research Environmental Scientist), Jennifer Hoponick Redmon (Senior Director, Environmental Health and Water Quality), Erica Wood (Research Environmental Scientist), Riley E. Mulhern (Research Environmental Engineer), Keith E. Levine (Vice President, Center for Analytical Sciences), and Frank Weber (Laboratory Manager, Trace Inorganics) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.