Lead in Drinking Water in Child Care Settings

boy drinking at outdoor fountain

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

Children can come in contact with lead in many ways. Lead exposure poses a special risk to young children because they absorb lead into their systems more easily than adults do. Lead can slow down growth, impair development and learning, and can cause behavior problems.

While a major source of lead exposure in Vermont children is paint, lead in older plumbing and fixtures can add to a child’s overall lead exposure. Child care facilities may be in older buildings, which means they are more likely to have lead in the plumbing. Plus, water that sits in lead plumbing and fixtures when it's not being used likely contains higher levels of lead.

To address these risks, Act 66 (2019) requires all Vermont schools and licensed or registered child care providers to test their drinking and cooking water for lead. If lead is found in an amount at or above the action level of 4 parts per billion (ppb), the school or child care provider must immediately take the fixture out of service and take steps to eliminate or reduce the amount of lead to below 4 ppb. This law builds on the 2017 water testing pilot project in which 16 schools participated.

go to the lead in drinking water results website

Go to the Child Care Provider Testing Schedule

lead in drinking water testing Law

Why is lead a concern?

Exposure to lead is a public health concern in Vermont. Lead is a highly toxic metal that is harmful to human health. It has been commonly used in many household, industrial and automobile products—such as paint, solder, batteries, brass, car radiators, bullets, pottery, etc.

There is no safe level of lead in the body, but lead poisoning is preventable. Lead can harm anyone, but children under the age of six are at special risk. Children are most susceptible to the effects of lead because their bodies are still developing and they absorb lead into their systems more easily than adults do. Even low blood lead levels in a child’s body can slow down growth, impair development and learning, and can cause behavior problems. Most children who have lead poisoning or high levels of lead exposure do not look or act sick.

When will child care providers begin testing?

Child care providers began testing in June 2019 and will be assigned a week to conduct their testing. All child care providers must test by December 31, 2020.

The child care provider testing schedule will be updated weekly after sample bottles are mailed out from the Lab. If you do not see a child care provider on the schedule, the sample bottles have not been sent to that child care provider yet.

Go to the Child Care Provider Testing Schedule

How will I find out when my child care provider starts testing and what the results are?

Child care providers are required to notify parents, guardians and staff before testing begins, after results are received, and after remediation actions have been completed. Results will be posted online one week after the child care provider receives the results from the Lab.

On the Results Website, you can see results and what fixes, or remediation actions, child care providers are taking to address any results that are at or above 4 ppb. If your child attends a program in a school (like a preschool or afterschool program), the results will be listed under the school’s name not the child care program's name.

go to the lead in drinking water results website

What happens if lead levels in the water are 4 ppb or higher?

If lead levels are found at or above the action level of 4 ppb, child care providers are required to immediately stop using that tap for drinking, cooking, food prep, making bottles and brushing teeth. They must also make sure an alternative source of water is available.

Child care providers are required to fix the problem or remove the tap from service, which means to physically remove it or shut off water to the tap. Once the problem has been fixed, child care providers will do a follow-up test to make sure the lead levels are below 4 ppb.

Who can I talk to about the results or remediation actions for my child’s child care program?

It depends on the question. Start by contacting your child's program. If they can't answer your question, then call 2-1-1.

What happens if lead is found in the water, but the levels are below 4 ppb?

No action is required. Parents, guardians and staff will still be notified of the results.

What is the Vermont Health Advisory Level and what does it mean?

Because there is no safe level of lead in the body, a Vermont Health Advisory Level of 1 ppb has been established. This is the lowest level that can be reliably measured in water. It is consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that taps in schools should not have lead levels above 1 ppb.

Should children have their blood tested for lead if lead has been detected in the drinking water at their child care facility?

In short, probably not.

Any time a child’s test shows an elevated blood lead level (at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL)), the Health Department tries to identify the source of the exposure. By testing all child care facilities and requiring remediation, we will be certain that any exposure from drinking water at a child care facility has been identified and reduced.

When deciding whether to test a child for lead in response to a child care provider’s water test results, it is important to understand that the possible exposure to lead from drinking the water at a child care facility may only be a part of the picture. There are other possible sources of lead (see the next question), and the amount in drinking water can add a child's overall lead exposure. We also can’t know how much water an individual child drank at the child care facility, so the amount of exposure is unknown.

All children should be screened for lead at ages 1 and 2 by their health care provider. 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 talk to your child’s health care provider. Learn about lead hazards and how to prevent lead poisoning

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 child’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 a first draw test kit for $12. Call 802-338-4736 or 800-660-9997 (toll-free in Vermont).