Kids & Family

Get the Lead Out: PA Schools Get an "F" for Drinking Water

Many districts don't even test for lead in the water kids drink, and they don't have to


A environmental activist group says Pennsylvania gets a failing grade when it comes to protecting children against the threat posed by lead in drinking water in schools. In its second Get The Lead Out Study, PennEnvironment gives Pennsylvania schools another "F" for water quality, saying the situation hasn't improved since the organization's initial study in 2017.

"Clean water is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is, in its most basic form, a constitutional issue," said PA Rep. Karen Boback, a Republican from Lackawanna County. Article 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution states, "The people have a right to clean air and pure water." When we turn open a faucet and fill a glass, or drink out of a drinking fountain, we expect what comes out to be clean.

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, the Pennsylvania Parent-Teacher Association, and a bipartisan group of legislators all joined PennEnvironment at a news conference to announce the study, and call for safe drinking water in Pennsylvania's schools.

"Most parents would be shocked to know that the majority schools aren't compelled to test their drinking water for lead, and that when schools DO test, best-practices aren't always utilized, the "acceptable" levels of lead used is too high to protect health, and the results of the tests are rarely shared with the community. said Stephanie Wein, Clean Water Advocate for PennEnvironment.

"We send children to school to learn - not to expose them to hazardous substances." PA Rep. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport

The study reported that, as more Pennsylvania schools do test their water, they are finding lead, and sometimes at extremely high levels. But even then, the law doesn't require them to do anything about it. PennEnvironment says current law:

  • Doesn't require remediation levels to be taken
  • Uses a maximum allowable level lead of 15 parts per billion, a standard rejected by the American Association of Pediatrics as far too high
  • Doesn't require results of testing be shared directly with parents.

Newly introduced legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly by state Representative Boback (House Bill 930) creates the tools to address these gaps:

  • Requiring annual testing of all water outlets used in schools for drinking and cooking, using the established best practices for testing;
  • Requiring all test results to be disclosed to parents;
  • Setting a statewide standard for lead in school water to 5 parts per billion, the same standard for lead in bottled water sold in the Commonwealth.

The measure has enjoyed bipartisan support, ending the 2017-2018 session, so parents and educators are hopeful that it will move quickly.

If you'd like to let lawmakers know where you stand on this issue, click here to find out who represents you, and how to e-mail or write to them.

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