Lead in School Drinking Water

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The information below is for schools. For information about schools currently being tested by the Department of Health (DOH) for lead in their drinking water, visit the lead in drinking water in schools testing page.

How does lead get into school drinking water?

Lead enters from a building's plumbing system. It may be present in various parts of the plumbing system (such as lead solder, brass fixtures, and lead or galvanized pipes) and leach into water standing in the system.

The amount of lead in drinking water depends on how corrosive the water is and the materials used to construct the plumbing system. The age of the building does not matter, even new plumbing fixtures can leach lead into drinking water. The longer water stands in the plumbing system, the more lead it can absorb. Learn more about lead in drinking water, other common sources, and health effects of lead (PDF)

What is DOH doing to test for lead in drinking water in schools?

To address the concerns about lead in drinking water, and to reduce children's overall exposure to lead in the environment, the Legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill (E2SHB) 1139 and directed DOH to test for lead in drinking water in public schools built, or with all plumbing replaced, before 2016. Testing must be done by June 30, 2026, and every five years thereafter.

In the previous round of sampling and testing that started in January 2018, DOH contacted district facilities managers to schedule sampling dates. DOH staff visited schools and took water samples based on the EPA's 3Ts for Reducing the Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities. The samples were sent to the DOH Public Health Lab for analysis and results were distributed to the school district. DOH provided guidance on communication as well as guidance on necessary remediation. Sampling began February 2018 and continued until funding was depleted to cover the cost of collecting and analyzing the samples. These processes will continue as we work to implement E2SHB 1139.

Currently, DOH is developing a two-year testing plan that includes a list of schools scheduled for sampling and testing. When the list is available, we will post it on this website.

We will update these web pages as implementation continues.

What are my options for testing for lead in drinking water?

To comply with E2SHB 1139, Lead in Drinking Water, schools must either cooperate with DOH or contract with a third party to conduct sampling and testing for lead in drinking water.

Schools who decide to use a contractor must ensure the contractor uses a laboratory accredited by the state to analyze lead in drinking water and must follow sampling procedures established by DOH: Testing for lead in school drinking water systems 331-261. The Department of Ecology Lab Accreditation Unit developed a list of drinking water labs.

How can schools reduce lead levels in drinking water?

Things schools can do to reduce lead in drinking water.

Rules and Regulations

The Washington State Department of Health's Office of Drinking Water oversees state and federal drinking water rules. Schools that own or operate their own water system must comply with the requirements of the federal Lead and Copper Rule. We require these systems to sample for lead to minimize the risk of exposure from drinking water.

Most schools get their water from public water systems and are not obligated to meet the requirements of the Lead and Copper Rule. The 1988 federal Lead Contamination Control Act (LCCA), was intended to reduce lead exposure, and any health risks, in drinking water at schools and child care centers. The focus of the LCCA was to remove drinking water coolers with lead-lined tanks. Although the LCCA had monitoring and reporting requirements for schools, it was challenged in court and cannot be enforced.

The State Board of Health adopted revisions to WAC 246-366, Primary and Secondary Schools that includes a section requiring lead testing. However, the new provisions of WAC 246-366 (titled WAC 246-366A) can't be implemented until funding is included in the legislative budget. Until funding is available, the previous rule version remains in effect and does NOT include lead testing. In April 2021, the State Legislature passed E2SHB 1139, requiring testing for lead in school drinking water and remediation when elevated levels are found.

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