Efforts to Test for Lead in California Schools at 55 Percent; State Deadline is July 1

By on March 24, 2019

Legislation authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-District 80-San Diego) and passed by the California Legislature in 2017 requires all California public, K-12 schools, preschools and daycare sites that were constructed before January 1, 2010 to have some of their drinking water outlets tested for lead by July I of this year. As of Thursday, 55 percent of California’s schools mandated to complete the state mandated lead testing have completed the requirement.

In a recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund 22 of the 31 states tested received a failing grade when it comes to “protecting children from lead in water at school. California was one of was one of three states to get a C+ in the report joining New York and Oregon. Only two states received a higher grade in the report; Illinois earned a B and Washing, D.C. garnered a B+.

California’s law requires schools to ensure that lead levels do not go above 15 parts per billion (ppb). If testing at any of the tested drinking water outlets exceeds 15 ppb, schools are required to replace the faucets and notify the schools parents. For test results between 5 and 15 ppb do not require any action on the part of the school or school district but health advocates contend that only lead levels under 1 ppb are considered safe.

According to the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), lead rarely occurs naturally in California’s drinking water sources, but may become present when water passes through older plumbing fixtures or solder containing lead that connects plumbing. In January 2017, the SWRCB Division of Drinking Water issued permit amendments to community public water systems serving K-12 schools requiring them to collect and analyze up to five water samples at each K-12 school that requests sampling. Once requested, the water system must then conduct sampling within 90 days.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect cognitive abilities, including IQ, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected; therefore, it is important to prevent lead exposure entirely. The American Academy of Pediatrics, California State PTA, and Compton Unified School district all joined California’s PIRG (CALPIRG) in calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in California’s schools and daycares.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Dr. Alice Kuo from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “There is no safe level of lead for children.”

Forty-five percent of California’s school have not yet completed their lead testing. And most only test the minimum requirement of five outlets per school site, instead of every outlet used for drinking and cooking.

“Drinking water in our public schools should not put the health of our students at risk. As a parent of young kids in school, I care as much as anyone about this issue,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “I’m glad districts are starting to take this seriously since we passed our lead testing at school sites legislation. But more work needs to be done to ensure all school drinking water is safe.”

In order to better apprise the public of the status of lead testing in California’s public schools, CALPIRG has released a new interactive map of school lead testing results, at: https://calpirg.org/feature/cap/get-lead-out-statewide-map. This map provides a school-by-school review of which schools has completed the mandated lead testing and the results for those which have completed testing.