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State Approaches to Testing School Drinking Water for Lead in the United States

This report, State Approaches to Testing School Drinking Water for Lead in the United States,describes the features of statewide initiatives in operation between January 1, 2016 and February 28, 2018 in 24 states and the District of Columbia to conduct testing for lead in school drinking water, and the prevalence of elevated lead concentrations in tap water in public schools based on available data. To identify and summarize the features of state policies and programs, researchers conducted online searches using a search engine and by scanning state legislative and department websites and existing resources from public health organizations. Researchers communicated with state government agencies to verify their policy or program and to request relevant documents and up-to-date data on water quality test results for lead.

Key findings of the study include that there is no uniformity in:

  • States’ approaches to create and oversee programs to test for elevated lead in school drinking water
  • States’ action levels
  • States’ protocols to test school drinking water for lead and to share their findings
  • States’ recommendations for school responses to testing
  • States’ organization and maintenance of water quality data

In 12 states (which were those with available data on the lead content found in drinking water in schools), the research team found that:

  • 12% of all water samples tested had a lead concentration at or above the state’s action level
  • 44% of schools tested had one or more water samples with a lead concentration at or above the state’s action level
  • Schools that collected and tested water from a greater number of taps were also more likely to identify a sample with elevated lead concentrations
  • Use of lower action levels by a state program would increase the proportion of schools that would need to take steps to address the content of lead in the drinking water

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