For Immediate Release: September 20, 2018
Ben Truman, Vermont Department of Health
802-951-5153 / 802-863-7281
Elle O’Casey, Agency of Natural Resources
State Report Recommends Actions to Address Lead in School Drinking Water
You have to test to know if there’s lead
BURLINGTON – A new state report of a pilot program to test school drinking water for lead recommends that all Vermont school water systems be tested for the toxic metal. Sixteen schools from across the state participated in the voluntary initiative to help determine whether a comprehensive state-wide testing program should be considered.
“There is no safe level of lead in the human body,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “We have an obligation to ensure that students and school staff have safe drinking water, and one thing this project made clear is that you have to test the water to know if there is lead in it,” said Dr. Levine.
Exposure to lead can slow down physical growth, and result in permanent developmental, learning and behavioral difficulties. While the effects of lead poisoning are irreversible, lead poisoning itself is entirely preventable. In 2017, 480 children under the age of 6 were poisoned by lead in Vermont. Paint is a major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children, but health officials emphasized lead in older plumbing, pipes and fixtures can add to a child’s overall lead exposure. Dr. Levine said that children absorb lead more easily than adults, so they are at special risk.
The testing program was conducted over the past year as part of a collaborative effort by the Vermont Department of Health, Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Education to gain insight into how widespread elevated lead levels may be in Vermont schools.
“Current regulations require testing of the quality of water at several locations throughout the municipal water system, but do not require testing for lead at school faucets. Thanks to the voluntary participation of the 16 schools that took part in this initiative, we have demonstrated the critical importance of testing at the faucet. The schools have provided valuable feedback on the sampling protocol and proven the effectiveness of remedial action. Their actions will inform the development of a program that works for Vermont,” said Emily Boedecker, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Results of the testing found that all the schools had multiple taps with lead levels above the Vermont Health Advisory Level of one part per billion (1 ppb). About one-third of the schools had at least one tap above the federal action level of 15 ppb for public drinking water. Lead was not found in bottle-fill drinking water stations equipped with proper filters.
Plumbing fixtures were the common source of lead found in the drinking water of Vermont schools. Where elevated lead levels at the schools were identified, the fixtures were replaced or permanently taken out of service.
“The good news is that when lead was found, the fixes were relatively inexpensive,” Dr. Levine said. “Most schools are able to fully test all their taps for $800-$1200. Removing a tap from service and replacing the fixture was typically done for less than $500.”
Dr. Levine highlighted that the cooperative nature of the pilot program made it easy for the schools to participate. “We all had the same goal in mind — protecting the health of everyone in our schools. The schools’ administration and staff were responsive, and quick to inform their communities and do the remediation work recommended for bringing lead levels as low as possible. Once the pilot was completed, we heard from numerous other schools interested in testing,” said Dr. Levine.
The state will be reviewing the data and lessons learned from the testing pilot. “This is not a problem unique to Vermont,” Dr. Levine said. “Schools throughout the U.S. have elevated levels of lead. We will be considering this matter carefully for the potential paths forward to best protect the health of Vermont’s children.”
Key Recommendations from the Report
- Test for lead in school drinking water at all schools
- Remove redundant or seldom-used fixtures
- When lead is found, remove or replace plumbing or pipes
- Encourage centrally-located fountains, and use of bottle-fill stations with proper filters
- Flush the lines of water after weekends, holidays or vacations
Find the report, the school testing results, and more information about lead in school drinking water: healthvermont.gov/school-drinking-water
Know what you can do to reduce lead in your home: Visit healthvermont.gov/lead or call the Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 802-863-7220 or 800-439-8550.
# # #