What You Need to Know About Lead in Drinking Water at Child Care Facilities

This is a guest post from Samantha Lovell, Project Specialist, at Environmental Defense Fund.

The crisis in Flint, Michigan, drew national attention to the risks of lead in drinking water — and the particular vulnerability of children to lead exposure. Even at low levels, lead can harm a child’s developing brain, resulting in learning and behavioral problems.

Lead can enter drinking water when pipes or plumbing materials containing lead corrode. Since lead has no taste or color, the only way to know whether it is present or not is to test the water.

Testing and removing lead in water

Unfortunately, most schools and child care (or day-care) facilities — where children spend the largest portion of time when not at home — are not required to test their drinking water for lead, let alone remove lead if found.

A report conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that only 43 percent of school districts tested their drinking water for lead in 2017 and 41 percent — serving approximately 12 million kids — did not test at all. Of those that tested, over a third found what the district deemed “elevated” levels of lead in the water.

While much of the national attention on this issue has focused on schools, lead in drinking water at child care facilities has gone relatively unnoticed. Yet children under the age of six are more susceptible to the harmful effects of lead exposure – and those at the highest risk are infants who are formula fed. Further, child care facilities are more likely than schools to have lead service lines — pipes connecting the main under the street to the building — because such building tend to be smaller in size. When present, lead service lines are the largest contributor of lead in water.

A recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) highlighted child care facilities as a major gap in protecting kids from lead in water. EDF conducted a pilot project in four states – Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Ohio — to test and reduce lead in drinking water at child care. They found that 7 out of 11 child care facilities tested had at least one drinking water fixture sample where action was needed to reduce lead levels — some with levels 16x higher than is allowed in bottled water. They removed significant sources of lead, including two lead service lines and over two dozen fixtures.

EDF’s report lays out key recommendations for child care facility operators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies, public health departments, and water utilities to begin to address this critical issue.

Tips for parents

But in the meantime, what are parents supposed to do? Here are some simple steps for parents concerned about lead in drinking water at their child care facility to take:

  1. Ask if the facility has tested the water for lead.

The first thing you should do is ask whether the child care facility has tested their water for lead.

  • If they have: Great! Now ask what the results were. If lead was detected, ask what the facility is doing to reduce the levels.
  • If they haven’t: Urge the facility to test, be transparent about results, and – if lead is found—take steps to reduce it.
  1. Check with the facility to make sure they are taking practical steps to reduce lead levels.

Regardless of testing results, a facility can follow routine practices to reduce children’s exposure to lead in water. Ask your child’s facility if they are:

  • Flushing faucets before use by allowing the water to run for 5-30 seconds. This allows contaminated water to run down the drain – instead of into a child’s cup.
  • Always using cold water from the tap for preparing baby formula, drinking, or cooking. Hot water can leach more lead from plumbing, but a good alternative is an electric hot water kettle.
  • Removing and rinsing aerator screens at the end of faucets every six months, soaking them in vinegar to dissolve any lead stuck in the screen.
  1. Ask the facility if there is a lead service line.

Testing the water is unlikely to determine whether a lead service line is present. The best way to find out is to contact the local water utility or conduct a physical inspection.

If the child care discovers a lead service line, the facility should develop a long-term plan for its replacement, and provide filtered water in the meantime.

Learn more about lead in water here:

Photo Credit: Clemens v. Vogelsang/Flickr

44 comments

Janis K
Janis K7 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Leo Custer
Leo C8 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Amanda M
Amanda M8 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M8 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Kathy G
Kathy G8 days ago

Thank you

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Kathy G
Kathy G8 days ago

Thank you

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Donna T
Donna T8 days ago

thank you

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Toni W
Toni W8 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W8 days ago

TYFS

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Julia R
Julia R8 days ago

Such important information that all parents should have access to!

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