Less Than Half of U.S. Schools Test for Lead in Water

Politico Pro reports that fewer than half of American school districts test their drinking water for lead, and when they do, more than a third find elevated levels of the potent neurotoxin, according to a government watchdog report released on July 17.

Larger school districts, and those in the Northeast, were far more likely to test for lead — and more likely to find it — according to the Government Accountability Office report. The report, based on a survey of more than 500 school districts across the country, found widely varying programs to test for and remediate lead in drinking water.

There is no federal law requiring schools to test their drinking water for lead — in fact, a 1988 law requiring states to establish such programs was struck down as unconstitutional. Even newer schools can have lead in their systems because water fountains and other fixtures that contained up to 8 percent lead could legally be called “lead free” until 2014.

The GAO report calls for EPA and the Department of Education to step up their efforts to inform schools about the importance of testing for lead and the best ways to do so.

The six Democrats who requested the report, including top members of the House Energy and Commerce and Senate HELP committees, called the report’s findings “disturbing and unacceptable” in a joint statement. They called on EPA to finalize a stronger regulation governing lead testing in drinking water and to issue guidance requiring testing in all public schools.

By Annie Snider