Lead in Drinking Water,
Information for Schools
Public School Code
To prevent exposure to lead contamination in the drinking water of Pennsylvania’s schools, the Public School Code was amended in June 2018 (by Act 39 of 2018) to:
- Encourage schools to test for lead in their drinking water;
- Require schools that do not test to discuss lead issues at a public meeting; and
- Implement a plan if results exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) national primary drinking water standard of 15 parts per billion (ppb).
This law is effective beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
Testing for Lead in Drinking Water
Under Act 39 of 2018, schools may, but are not required to, test for lead levels annually in the drinking water of any facility where children attend school.
Requirements for Schools Choosing Not to Test for Drinking Water
If a school chooses not to test for lead levels, then the school must discuss lead issues in school facilities at a public meeting once a year. This meeting may be a stand-alone meeting or part of an existing public meeting (such as a school board meeting).
Schools with Elevated Lead Levels
If a school tests for lead levels in their drinking water and finds lead levels in excess of the EPA’s current action level of 15 ppb, the school must immediately implement a plan to ensure that no child or adult is exposed to lead contaminated drinking water and provide alternate sources of drinking water. Resources on testing for lead and remedies for elevated lead levels are outlined below.
As required by Act 39 of 2018, beginning in the 2018-19 school year and every year thereafter, elevated lead levels must be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and will be posted on PDE’s website. Questions can be sent to the PDE Office for Safe Schools at RA-EDLeadTesting@pa.gov.
Disclaimer: Some schools use their own water source, such as a well, and are regulated as a public water system under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). These schools are required to comply with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Nothing in the amendments to the Public School Code are intended to supersede the requirements under the SDWA or the LCR. For more information about the LCR, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) website.
Health Effects From Lead
Exposure to lead is a significant health concern, especially for young children and infants whose growing bodies tend to absorb more lead than the average adult. There is no safe blood lead level in children. Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters the body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys and interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of the body. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones, and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, a child can receive lead from their mother's bones, which may affect brain development. If parents or caregivers are concerned about lead exposure, they may want to ask their health care provider about testing children to determine levels of lead in their blood.
Sources of Lead
Sources of lead exposure include lead-based paint, lead in the air or soil, lead in consumer products and food, and lead in water. The most common sources of lead exposure for children are chips and dust from lead paint. Lead deposits can be found in soil near streets from past emissions by automobiles using leaded gas, and from lead paint chips and dust. Lead in water occurs through corrosion of plumbing materials containing lead.
Lead Comes From Plumbing Materials
Some drinking water pipes, solder, faucets, valves, and other plumbing materials contain lead, including brass plumbing components. Lead in the plumbing may leach into water and pose a health risk if consumed. The potential for lead to leach into water can increase the longer the water remains in contact with lead in plumbing. Facilities with intermittent water use may have elevated lead concentrations. Elevated lead concentrations also result from corrosive water.
Testing for Lead at Schools
Testing water in schools is important, because children spend a significant portion of their days in these facilities. The longer water remains in contact with leaded plumbing, the more opportunity exists for lead to leach into water. As a result, facilities with on again/off again water use, such as schools, may have elevated lead concentrations in the water. Testing the water at each outlet is the only sure way to find out if the water contains too much lead.
EPA recommends that schools develop a plumbing profile and sampling plan to understand how water enters and flows through the building, as well as identify and prioritize sample sites.
EPA recommends the following sites as priority sample sites: drinking fountains, kitchen sinks, classroom sinks, teachers’ lounge sinks, nurse’s office sinks, and any other sink known to be used for consumption.
EPA recommends that samples be collected in 250 milliliter (mL) sample bottles to better target the sources of lead at an outlet. Samples should be collected before the facility opens and before any water is used. Ideally, the water should sit in the pipes unused for at least 8 hours but not more than 18 hours before a sample is taken.
For more information on testing, including guidance for developing a sampling program and information on remedies, visit the EPA website. Resources include EPA’s 3Ts Toolkit for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and potential funding sources for schools for water quality related projects and other programs.
Schools should test the water using a DEP-accredited lab. A searchable database of DEP accredited labs is available on the DEP website, which also provides instructions for using the search function.
Remedies and Best Practices to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water
Routine control measures:
- Develop an aerator (screen) cleaning maintenance schedule and clean debris from all accessible aerators frequently.
- Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.
- Run the water to flush out lead. If water hasn't been used for several hours, run water for 30 seconds to two minutes or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes out any stagnant water in the plumbing and replaces it with fresh water.
Interim control measures:
- Flush the piping system in the building by opening taps every morning before the facility opens and letting the water run to remove stagnant water.
- Provide bottled water.
- Shut off or disconnect problem outlets.
- Use interim measures on a permanent basis.
- Remove leaded plumbing materials and replace them with certified lead-free materials.
- Consider options for treatment such as point of use filters. Ensure filters are certified to reduce lead and are properly maintained.
More Information About Lead: