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How States Are Handling Lead in School Drinking Water

By the time a child graduates from high school, they will have spent an estimated 15,600 hours at school. Because a significant amount of children’s daily water intake comes from school water fountains, ensuring their access to safe drinking water at school is essential for their overall health. And one key health challenge that schools across the country may face is the presence of lead in drinking water.

Elevate worked with the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) to conduct a landscape analysis of all states’ efforts to test for lead in water in order to learn which states have mandatory and voluntary programs, how these programs operate, and the type of state-level financial and operational support given to schools for addressing lead in drinking water. Conducted from April 2021 through August 2021, our landscape analysis draws on published sources and state-specific surveys (as needed) to learn more about how these testing efforts work. We also conducted interviews with program administrators in 13 states, including the District of Columbia, to learn about the challenges, lessons learned, and best practices that emerged during the rollout and administration of the states’ testing programs.

There are 18 states with mandatory lead in water testing requirements, and 23 have a statewide voluntary lead testing program. We also found that 2 states have forthcoming efforts, and 4 states have testing efforts that did not meet our definition of a mandatory or voluntary program. We could not find publicly available information on testing efforts in four states. Of the states with mandatory testing requirements, 13 require some level of mitigation if lead is found above the state’s recommended action level. There are 15 states that offer some level of financial support for mitigating sources of lead in water.

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