Lead in Drinking Water in Schools

girl drinking from water 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. Many Vermont schools are 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 school is not in session likely contains higher levels of lead.

To address these risks, Act 66 (2019) requires all Vermont school districts, supervisory unions, independent schools and 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 School 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 schools begin testing?

Beginning in September 2019, schools will be assigned a week to conduct their testing. All schools must test by December 31, 2020.

Superintendents (public schools) and heads of school (independent schools) will be emailed when their school(s) have been scheduled. The school testing schedule will be updated as pickup dates are confirmed. If you do not see a school listed on the schedule, that means it has not been scheduled yet.

Go to the School Testing Schedule

How will I find out when my school starts testing and what the results are?

Schools 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 school receives the results from the Lab.

On the Results Website, you can see results and what fixes, or remediation actions, schools 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

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

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

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

If lead levels are found at or above the action level of 4 ppb, schools are required to immediately stop using that tap for drinking and cooking. They must also make sure an alternative source of water is available for drinking and cooking.

Schools are required to fix the problem or remove the tap from service. Once the problem has been fixed, schools will do a follow-up test to make sure the lead levels are below 4 ppb.

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

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 school?

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 schools and requiring remediation, we will be certain that any exposure from drinking water at a school has been identified and reduced.

When deciding whether to test a child for lead in response to a school’s water test results, it is important to understand that the possible exposure to lead from drinking the water at a school 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 school, so the amount of exposure is unknown.

All children should be screened for lead at ages 1 and 2 by their health care providers. 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 the first draw test kit for $12. Call 802-338-4736 or 800-660-9997 (toll-free in Vermont).

lead in school drinking water Pilot

The Health Department, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education led a joint pilot project from November 2017 to March 2018 to gather information about lead levels in the drinking water of 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.