Lead Testing Across the U.S.

May 1, 2017
States update lead testing regulations in wake of Flint crisis

About the author: Marianne Metzger is executive director of the Eastern Water Quality Assn., and an independent sales representative for National Testing Laboratories Ltd. Metzger can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].

The water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., was just the beginning in uncovering lead issues across the U.S.

The Flint crisis began when, in an effort to save money, the city of Flint switched its water source from the Detroit municipal water system to the Flint River, until a pipeline could be built tying Flint into the Karegnondi Water Authority. Water from the river contained high levels of chloride, which were corrosive to pipe and plumbing fixtures. Additionally, the city did not immediately treat the water with a corrosion inhibitor, so the water became contaminated with lead, iron and copper.

The lead poisoning of many young children in Flint led to scrutiny of the Lead and Copper Rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Schools were given a closer look when initial tests in Michigan indicated problems in schools statewide. As more results were publicized, schools across the country began proactive lead testing. Then, states got involved and passed legislation requiring testing at schools. The following is an overview of current and proposed regulations for lead testing in schools in various states.

Alabama. Alabama has no formal lead testing regulations, but the State Department of Education has made plans to test all schools for lead. To reduce costs, it partnered with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which will train school employees to collect samples. Sampling began this spring and will continue into the fall.

Arizona. Arizona funded a fast-track study to test 14,000 water samples from at least 7,000 schools. The schools are responsible for collecting samples at first draw after water sits for 6 hours. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality provides containers and instructions. Samples will be shipped to contracted labs at no cost, and those with lead levels of more than 15 ppb will be identified for treatment.

California. California requires community water suppliers to test drinking water at schools if requested by the school in writing. The water supplier, which is responsible for all testing costs, has three months to collect samples, and must report results to the school within 10 business days of receipt. Certified water operators must collect the first-draw samples in a 1-liter bottle with a large mouth.

Colorado. A bill recently introduced in Colorado provides funding for lead testing in schools and gives the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment the power to administer the testing program. The highest priority will be given to schools at the highest risk. Schools must match 10% of funding to cover the costs of testing, and results must be shared with the local municipal water supplier. The testing is scheduled to be completed by June 2020.

Georgia. The Georgia state Senate passed a bill to require schools to test for lead in drinking water and remediate problems by June 30, 2019. This bill requires schools to share results with parents and the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Illinois. Illinois requires schools with pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and day cares built prior to 2000 to test drinking and cooking water sources for lead. This regulation allows schools access to previously unavailable funds.

New Jersey. New Jersey was among the first states to require lead testing in schools in April 2016. It requires schools to test 30 days prior to the start of school and again six months later. The costs of testing can be covered by a general fund from the New Jersey Department of Education.

New York. In September 2016, New York state passed rules requiring school districts to test potable water for lead. Anyone familiar with sampling protocol—a school staff member, laboratory personnel or consultant—may collect samples. Samples must be collected after water has been idle for 8 to 18 hours, and should be first-draw samples collected in 250-milliliter large-mouth bottles. New York requires ongoing testing, so samples will be collected again in 2020.

Maine. A recently introduced bill aims to expand lead testing to all day cares and schools in Maine. The language is vague and needs clarification on sample collection and remediation requirements.

Maryland. Maryland introduced legislation in January requiring schools to perform periodic lead testing of drinking water. The bill aims to test schools by January 2018. Recommendations are based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Massachusetts. Massachusetts announced a one-time voluntary program to test water in schools for lead. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality and the University of Massachusetts Amherst helped interested schools sample and test for lead. The program ended in February, and testing results have been uploaded to a public website.

Minnesota. A newly introduced bill in Minnesota would require public schools to test for lead in drinking water sources in 2018, 2021 and 2023 with funding from a long-term facility maintenance fund. A second bill aims to extend this requirement to pre-kindergarten facilities.

Nevada. Nevada provided voluntary testing and remediation for lead in schools through a federal grant. No regulations require the testing.

North Carolina. North Carolina passed a bill requiring schools to test drinking water outlets constructed prior to January 1987. The testing took place between February and April 2017 using certified laboratories. Results will be reported to the schools and the state government.

Oregon. The Oregon Department of Education required schools to submit a plan for sampling lead and radon by Jan. 1, 2017. The results must be shared with the department.

Rhode Island. Rhode Island recently introduced a bill to reduce lead poisoning and address testing and remediation in schools. It considers 1 ppb an elevated level of lead. This legislation also calls for the removal of lead service lines connected to schools. Other remediation practices include the use of products certified to NSF/ANSI standards for lead removal.

Tennessee. Tennessee recently proposed a bill that would require lead testing in schools built before June 19, 1986, when lead was federally banned from plumbing materials. The bill also requires testing results that exceed 20 ppb to be made public to students and parents.

Texas. Texas introduced a bill to require lead testing in public schools. It was prompted by schools that proactively tested and found concerning results. The sampling protocols are based on the Lead and Copper Rule. According to the bill language, the school would select a third party to perform testing. If the bill passes, testing would begin as soon as September 2017.

Vermont. A recent bill introduced in Vermont requires the state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation to jointly work on a program to prioritize lead testing on potable water and soil surrounding 12 geographically significant schools. The results will be provided to students, volunteers and parents. The departments would work on remediation options and make recommendations for testing at other schools in the state.

Virginia. A bill introduced in Virginia proposes requiring schools under construction prior to 1986 to test for lead in water sources. Sites with more than 20 ppb of lead would be reported to the public, with immediate remediation required.

Washington. Washington state’s requirement for schools to monitor for lead will begin in July 2017 if funding becomes available. Sampling can be done by school officials, and they are required to collect a first-draw sample after water has been unused for 8 hours in a 250-milliliter large-mouth bottle at representative sample sites. K-12 schools may initially test 50% of faucets commonly used for drinking or cooking within one year and test the remaining faucets within two years. Middle and junior high schools must test within three years. High schools have four years to test. Testing will be ongoing every five years.

Proactive Lead Testing

Many schools began testing prior to any regulations. This testing revealed schools across the U.S. with significant contaminant levels, prompting the state regulations. Each state’s regulations have varying requirements for collection amount, timing of sampling and acceptable contamination levels. Differences such as the sample size and the length of time water sits undisturbed can impact the results. Meanwhile, some of the proposed regulations are vague and do not provide examples of remediation methods. 

About the Author

Marianne Metzger

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