Drinking Water Lead Testing Project Wraps Up

The WSU EFC just wrapped up its lead in drinking water testing project with tribal schools and childcare facilities in Kansas and Nebraska. Thanks to funding and guidance from EPA Region 7, the EFC offered free lead testing for any tribal school and childcare facility in our region. The project was complicated by the virus and all the disruptions it has created for the daily operations of schools and childcare facilities. Despite these challenges the drinking water at two tribal schools and four childcare facilities were completed.

The project aimed to reduce exposure to lead through drinking water for Native nation children. Lead can enter drinking water as pipes and fixtures containing lead corrode. This is most likely to occur in older facilities that were constructed before the use of lead pipes was banned in 1986. Lead can have significant health effects and can even be fatal at certain levels. Children are particularly susceptible to lead, so it is important to ensure that their exposure to lead is minimized or eliminated

Although there is no safe level of lead, EPA has identified an action level of 15 parts per billion for lead in drinking water. Some states have identified levels even lower than the national standard. For example, the state of Montana has established an action level of 5 parts per billion for lead in schools and childcare facilities.

EPA is considering lowering the action level to 10 parts per billion in their upcoming update to the Lead and Copper Rule that likely will be released in 2022. The new Lead and Copper regulations will likely require schools and childcare facilities to test for lead to ensure the safety of our nation’s youth. Testing responsibility will likely fall to school and childcare staff. Fortunately, there is lots of support material available to help. EPA has developed extensive and comprehensive guidance and resources to assist schools and childcare facilities with testing for lead in the drinking water, including resources available in Spanish. Information is also available from each of the states’ health agencies, including funding assistance for the testing in some instances. Schools and childcare facilities are encouraged to contact their local county health department and state health agencies to learn more about available resources.

 The cost of sampling and funding assistance can vary. Check with your local and state health agencies for possible funding assistance. Your local water utility may also be a resource for funding assistance, sampling staff and technical expertise as they routinely collect water samples to ensure the safety of the drinking water they produce.

Here are a few tips that we learned during our project:

1) Develop a sampling plan that follows the path of water through your facility. The first samples should be closest to where the water first enters the structure and then collect samples following the distribution of water throughout the facility. Your facility’s janitor and/or facility engineer can help identify the flow of water and should be consulted in the sampling discussions.
2) Not all of the faucets and water fountains need to be tested. Select a representative sample from your school or childcare facility. If you have a large facility, the costs of testing may become prohibitive, so select a sample of faucets and water sources.
3) Do not forget to include sinks and faucets just available to staff to ensure their safety, particularly ones used by pregnant and nursing mothers.
4) The water at a facility does not have to be turned off for the sampling. It just needs to sit and soak in the pipes for a minimum of 8 hours and no more than 18 hours. These requirements are commonly met during the school week.  
5) Contact your local water utility and health agencies to see if they can assist with the sampling or provide technical assistance. As mentioned, your local water utility routinely collects water samples to ensure the safety of the water. Their staff may volunteer to assist with the sample collection!
6) Make sure to keep your staff, students and parents advised on the potential health risks associated with lead. EPA ’s 3Ts guidance includes lots of examples of outreach and communication documents that your facility can easily adapt and use for this purpose.
7) Make sure to review and use EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities manual.  This is a useful resource to help you will all aspects of the testing and keeping everyone informed of your efforts.

We appreciated the opportunity to help ensure the safety of tribal nation’s youth in our region. We encourage staff from schools and childcare facilities to contact us with any questions on the project!

This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement AI97756601 to Wichita State University Environmental Finance Center. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency, nor does the EPA endorse trade names or recommend the use of commercial products mentioned in this document.