Health experts say that no amount of lead in drinking water is safe, particularly for children. But, for Massachusetts public schools, both testing for lead and reporting results of those tests to state officials are optional.
Because there are no federal or state requirements that schools test for lead, such testing is done on a voluntary basis, according to a November 26, 2019 WGBH story. And the state doesn’t require that schools report results of any lead tests or findings of contaminated water.
Lead exposure has been linked with brain damage in young children and cardiovascular issues in adults.
Out of 1,847 public schools in Massachusetts, less than a third—511—reported conducting lead tests over the past three years, and 248 of those tests found high levels of lead, according to the article. More than half of the schools that found lead have not reported to the state steps they took to correct the problem, such as shutting off water fountains or replacing lead pipes.
Ronnie Levin, a visiting scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than 37 years, told WGBH that part of the problem is that no single agency is responsible for requiring or conducting lead testing in schools, so the task winds up left to the schools themselves.
“[The] EPA doesn’t have authority to test what are considered consumer products, which is what piping and faucets and stuff are,” she said. “The Consumer Product Safety Commission can’t test anything … that has to do with diet. So, drinking water conceivably is a food issue and so they don’t have authority. The Food and Drug Administration has explicitly exempted drinking water from its regulations. So, we have an odd stepchild legislatively, statutorily, for who regulates lead.”
Listen to or read the WGBH story: Mass. Schools Not Required To Test Water For Lead
Questioning the EPA’s drinking water regulations (Harvard Chan School news)
Report: Lead levels too high in many U.S. schools (Harvard Chan School feature)