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:
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. 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.
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.
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 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
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 removing or replacing the fixture.
Schools are encouraged to do another test to make sure the water is below the EPA action level before using the tap again. After replacing plumbing or a fixture, flush the tap multiple times a day for at least three weeks before re-sampling and using it again.
Because there is no safe level of lead, the Health Department has established a Vermont Health Advisory of 1 ppb, and encourages schools to take action to ensure lead levels in drinking water are as low as possible. Many of the same easy, low-cost fixes used when lead levels are high can also be used to lower lead levels.
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 first draw and flush test kits for $24. Order a lead in drinking water test kit
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.
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.
In short, probably not.
When lead is detected in drinking water above the EPA action level it does not necessarily mean that a child who drank that water will have elevated levels of lead in their blood. It is unlikely that a child would have elevated blood lead levels as a result of consuming drinking water at school, unless they were also exposed to lead in other ways. Other potential sources of lead include dust from deteriorated lead-based paint, toys, keys, jewelry, pottery, dishes, contaminated soil, old plumbing pipes and fixtures in homes, 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 child’s overall lead exposure.
If you have additional questions, call the Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 802-863-7220 or 800-439-8550 (toll-free in Vermont), or speak to your child’s health care provider. Learn how to prevent lead risks in your home
lead in school drinking water initiative
The Health Department, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education led a joint project from November 2017 to March 2018 to gather information about lead levels in Vermont schools. This project provided a small number of schools with the opportunity to receive one-on-one assistance and save money during the testing process. The Health Department offered testing supplies, analysis and follow-up testing free of charge to participating schools. If lead was found in drinking water, State agencies and drinking water experts worked with schools find the best possible solution to lower lead levels. Many solutions were easy and low-cost.
|Barre City Elementary & Middle School||Barre City|
|Bennington Elementary School||Bennington|
|Castleton Elementary School||Castleton|
|Central Elementary School||Bellows Falls|
|Elm Hill School||Springfield|
|Enosburg Falls Elementary School||Enosburg Falls|
|Johnson Elementary School||Johnson|
|Ludlow Elementary School||Ludlow|
|Northwest Primary School||Rutland|
|Richford Elementary School||Richford|
|St. Albans City School||St. Albans|
|St. Johnsbury School||St. Johnsbury|
|Thatcher Brook Primary School||Waterbury|
|White River School||White River Junction|
resources for schools that want to test for lead in drinking water
|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 flowchart when you receive the lead in drinking water tests results to help you determine which remediation strategies will fix the problem.|
|EPA’s 3Ts Toolkit||This is the full guidance from the EPA for reducing lead in drinking water.|
Watch this video to learn how to take samples and test your school's drinking water for lead.