Testing for Lead in Drinking Water in Schools

Why is lead a problem and how can I be exposed to lead?

Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead. Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Even at very low levels of exposure to lead, children may experience effects including lower IQ levels, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, poor classroom performance, or other harmful physical and behavioral effects.

There are many sources of lead exposure, including drinking water. Learn more about the health effects of lead, common sources, and how to prevent exposure.

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

To address concerns about lead in drinking water, and to reduce children's overall exposure to lead in the environment, the legislature directed us to test for lead in drinking water in public schools.

In the previous round of sampling and testing, started in January 2018, we contacted district facilities managers to schedule sampling dates. Our staff visited schools and took water samples based on EPA's 3Ts for Reducing the Lead in Drinking Water in Schools. Samples were sent to the DOH Public Health Lab for analysis and results were distributed to the school district and maintained on this website. We provided guidance on communication and necessary remediation. Sampling began February 2018 and continued until funding that covered costs of collecting and analyzing samples was depleted.

As mandated in E2SHB 1139, we will continue to test for lead in school drinking water and provide technical assistance and guidance to school districts regarding lead testing and follow up actions. We are partnering with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, schools, and local health officials to support and advise schools on planning and development of action plans that are required when lead test results show elevated levels of lead.

Which schools will DOH test?

We identified schools to include in the initial two-year plan for sampling and testing school drinking water. Before we can include a school in the sampling plan, we must contact the school to determine if they have contracted or plan to contract for sampling and testing.

We will continue to update the two-year Sampling Plan (PDF) as we learn more about each school’s testing status.

For more information, please contact leadfreekids@doh.wa.gov.

What actions are needed after testing?

This depends on the lead results from testing. For each fixture with lead results over 15 parts per billion (ppb):

  • Shut off the water to the fixture as soon as possible after receiving test results, and;
  • Ensure it remains inaccessible to students and staff until a plan is in place to shut it off permanently or remediation is in place.

Per E2SHB 1139, schools with fixtures with lead results greater than 5 ppb must develop an action plan in consultation with DOH or a local health agency. This plan must describe mitigation measures since the lead results were received, include a schedule for remediation activities, and include post-remediation retesting to confirm remediation activities have reduced lead levels at the fixtures below 5 ppb.

We are developing Washington State-specific technical guidance and will make it available to you when completed. In the interim, you can use remediation options in accordance with EPA's 3Ts for Reducing the Lead in Drinking Water in Schools to address sources of lead in the drinking water in your school.

Remediation options include:

  1. Installation of point of use (POU) devices. POU filters are commercially available and can be effective in removing lead. There are several POU cartridge filter units on the market that effectively remove lead. To select a lead-reducing POU filter you will want to verify the product was tested and certified against NSF/ANSI Standard 53 (for lead removal). For additional protection for particulate lead, look for a POU filter that is also certified against NSF/ANSI Standard 42 (for class I particulate reduction, 0.5 µm to less than 1 µm). EPA provides a consumer tool to help you identify filters that reduce lead. You can also check the NSF website, to ensure the filter is certified. Filters need routine maintenance to remain effective.
  2. Fixture or outlet replacement. If sources of lead contamination are localized and limited to a few outlets, replacement may be the most cost-effective option in the short-term. EPA's revised March 2015 guidance, How to Identify Lead-Free Certification Marks for Drinking Water System & Plumbing Products, is a useful resource for selecting lead-free plumbing.

  3. Reconfiguring or plumbing replacement. If the sources of lead contamination are widespread, school renovation may provide modification opportunities in the plumbing system to redirect water supplied for drinking or cooking and bypass sources of lead contamination. Before undertaking such an alternative, be certain that you properly identify all sources of lead contamination in drinking water.

Resources

Lead Poisoning Prevention - Health effects of lead, common sources, and how to prevent exposure.

Department of Health's recommendation in response to the Governor's Directive on Lead 16-06 (PDF)

Governor's Directive on Lead (PDF)

Information for Schools