Lead in School Drinking Water

girl drinking from water fountain

Children can come in contact with lead in many ways. Exposure to lead can slow down growth, development, and learning and can cause behavior problems in children. Children absorb lead more easily than adults so they are at special risk. While a major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children is paint, lead in older plumbing, pipes and fixtures can add to a child’s overall lead exposure.

Unless you test for it, there’s no way of knowing if lead is in drinking water.

Why test for lead in school drinking water?

Many Vermont schools are in older buildings, which means they are more likely to have lead in their plumbing. Plus, water that sits in lead pipes and plumbing fixtures when school is not in session may contain higher levels of lead. To help ensure school drinking water is safe, the Health Department encourages all schools to test for lead at each tap used for drinking water or cooking and to take action to lower lead levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) action level for lead in drinking water is 0.015 mg/L (milligrams per liter) or 15 ppb (parts per billion). This level is used to determine when lead problems should be fixed. However, there is no "safe" level of lead in drinking water, because there is no safe level of lead in the body.

Other states and cities that have recently tested school drinking water for lead have found many schools with at least one tap with elevated lead levels. For example, New York City found that 83% of schools tested had at least one drinking water tap above the state's action level of 15 ppb or 0.015 mg/L.

Is my school’s drinking water tested for lead?

Two things determine whether schools are required to test for lead: where the water comes from and how many people are served. Schools fall into the following groups:

Schools that get their water from a public water system (town, city or other)

Public water systems are tested for lead on a regular basis. Samples are taken from private homes because federal laws focus testing at residences, not at schools. While the water supplied to schools from a public water system may have acceptably low levels of lead, lead can still get into the drinking water from older pipes, plumbing fixtures or solder within the school building. Schools served by a public water system can choose to conduct their own testing following the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) 3Ts Toolkit for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools.

Schools that are on their own well and serve fewer than 25 people

If a school has its own well and serves fewer than 25 people, it is not required to test its water for lead because it does not fall under public water system regulations. The Health Department encourages schools to test water from every tap that could be used for drinking water for lead and fix problems when they are found.

Schools that are on their own well and serve 25 people or more

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources considers these schools to be public water systems. These water systems are required to test water for lead from some, but not all, of the taps on a regular basis based on the number of of people served. The results of these tests are available on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Drinking Water Database. The Health Department encourages schools to test water from every tap that could be used for drinking water for lead and fix problems when they are found. Learn more about lead in drinking water regulations

more frequently asked questions

What happens if there are high lead levels in the water?

If lead levels are found to be over the EPA's action level (0.015 mg/L or 15 ppb), schools should be prepared to immediately stop using that tap. Public water suppliers and state agencies may be able to help schools with finding the best possible solution to lower lead levels. Many solutions are easy and low-cost, for example replacing the fixture or flushing the water. Schools are then encouraged to do another test to make sure the water is below the EPA action level before using the tap again.

What happens if lead is found in the water but the levels are below the action level?

There is no safe level of lead in the body. Schools are encouraged to take action to lower any level of lead in drinking water. Many of the same easy, low-cost fixes used when lead levels are high can also be used to lower lead levels.

Are there other ways children can be exposed to lead?

Exposure to lead is a public health concern in Vermont. Possible sources include dust from chipping or peeling lead-based paint, toys, keys, jewelry, pottery, dishes, contaminated soil, old plumbing pipes and fixtures, imported candy and foods, and antique, vintage and salvaged goods. While a major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children is paint, lead in plumbing pipes and fixtures can add to a person’s overall lead exposure. Learn about lead hazards and how to prevent lead poisoning

The Health Department encourages all homeowners—on town water or private wells—to test their drinking water for lead. The Health Department Laboratory offers the test for $12. Order a lead in drinking water test kit

Who should I contact if I want my school's drinking water to be tested for lead?

The Agency of Education encourages parents, staff and faculty to contact the school district superintendent or the school board if you want to advocate for your school to have its water tested for lead.

How do I test my school’s drinking water for lead?

The Health Department recommends following the EPA’s 3Ts Toolkit for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools. Here are some guidelines to help you get started:

  • Collect samples in 250 mL (milliliter) bottles from every tap that is used for drinking and cooking.
  • Allow water to sit in pipes unused for eight to 18 hours before collecting samples. Do not sample on the day following a weekend, holiday or school break.
  • Collect both a first draw and a 30-second flush sample at each tap.
  • Have samples analyzed by the Health Department Laboratory or another Certified Drinking Water Laboratory.

If lead levels are found to be over 15 ppb, schools should be prepared to immediately stop using those taps. Schools are also encouraged to take action when lead is detected in drinking water at concentrations below 15 ppb.

lead in school drinking water initiative

The Health Department, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education are leading a joint project to gather information about lead levels in Vermont schools. This project will provide a small number of schools with the opportunity to receive one-on-one assistance and save money during the testing process. The Health Department is offering testing supplies, analysis and follow-up testing free of charge to participating schools. If lead is found in drinking water, state agencies and drinking water experts will work with schools find the best possible solution to lower lead levels. Many solutions are easy and low-cost.

resources for schools that want to test for lead in drinking water

Title Description
EPA 3Ts – Plumbing Profile Fill out this questionnaire to help you determine whether or not lead is likely to be a problem in your school, and to help you to prioritize your sampling effort.
EPA 3Ts – Vermont Summary Read this overview to learn about the 3Ts and how to create a school sampling plan.
Sample Letter – Pre-Test Information Use this letter template to inform parents/guardians and staff before you begin a sampling plan.
Sample Letter – Post-Test (results above 15 ppb) Use this letter to inform parents/guardians about lead in drinking water test results that are at or above the action level.
Sample Letter – Post-Test (results below 1 ppb) Use this letter to inform parents/guardians about lead in drinking water test results that are below the lab’s detection limit.
Sample Letter – Post-Test (results between 1 and 15 ppb) Use this letter to inform parents/guardians about lead in drinking water test results that are below the action level but above the lab’s detection limit.
Sampling and Remediation Flow Chart Use this flow chart when you receive the lead in drinking water tests results to help you determine which remediation strategies will fix the problem.

Watch this video to learn how to take samples and test your school's drinking water for lead.