Less than half of US school districts test drinking water for lead: Report

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Only 43 percent of school districts in the United States test for lead in drinking water used by students in 2016 or 2017, according to a federal government report released Tuesday.

The report from the Government Accountability Office also found that of the 43 percent of school districts that test for lead in drinking water 37 percent found elevated levels above the level requiring action. The remaining 41 percent of districts said they did not test for lead and 16 percent of districts surveyed did not know if they tested for lead, according to the report.

No level of lead exposure is considered safe for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Lead can cause developmental delays, damage to the brain and nervous system, lower IQ, and hyperactivity.

The majority of the school districts that found elevated levels of lead took action, according to the report, including replacing water fountains, taking water fountains out of service, or installing water filters.

There is no federal law that requires schools to test for drinking water but multiple states require or provide funding for testing.

The CDC says that as many as 535,000 children ages 1 to 5 have levels of lead in their blood that are high enough to cause health problems.

Though the GAO report indicates that lead contamination could be a problem in hundreds of schools around the country, the crisis in Flint, Michigan is still one of the most well-known cases of lead exposure in the country. Michigan recently stopped distributing bottled water to Flint residents, saying that the water tested below lead levels that require action. But many residents are still concerned that they could be exposed to lead.

Several Democratic lawmakers separately asked the GAO to look into lead testing in schools. The Democrats, which included members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called the findings “disturbing and unacceptable” in a statement.

In response to the report, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education agreed to promote lead testing in schools and provide guidance for school districts that need to address lead levels in drinking water.

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