Only 43 percent of schools reported testing their drinking water for lead in the last year in a 2017 survey released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office. Among those districts, 37 percent found elevated levels of lead.
The findings come after an ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan drew attention to concerns about lead contamination. In the time since, schools around the country have detected lead in the water children drink.
“No federal law requires testing of drinking water for lead in schools that receive water from public water systems, although these systems are regulated by the EPA,” the GAO said in its report. “Lead can leach into water from plumbing materials inside a school.”
An estimated 41 percent of school districts, serving 12 million students, did not test for lead in 2016 or 2017, the agency concluded after administering a web survey to a sample of 549 districts nationwide.
The Environmental Protection Agency told the GAO that at least eight states had requirements that schools test for lead in drinking water in 2017. And 13 state offer some support for schools to perform voluntary testing, the report says.
“Although EPA guidance emphasizes the importance of addressing elevated lead levels, GAO found that some aspects of the guidance, such as the threshold for taking remedial action, were potentially misleading and unclear, which can put school districts at risk of making uninformed decisions,” the GAO found.
The U.S. Department of Education and the EPA signed onto an agreement in 2005 that they would support state and district lead testing efforts, but they do not regularly collaborate in this area, the report says.
The GAO recommends that the EPA should update its guidance on lead testing in schools and that it should work jointly with the Education Department to disseminate the information and support schools.
Photo: Getty Images
Related reading about lead in school drinking water, Flint:
- After Flint, New Scrutiny of Schools’ Drinking Water
- Flint Children to Be Screened for Disabilities After $4 Million Settlement
- Water Contamination Raises Health Concerns for Flint Students
- Amid Water Crisis, Flint Schools Superintendent Forced Off Job
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.