At a Glance
Vermont's Department of Health, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education began a pilot program to test for lead in 16 schools to build the state's capacity for lead testing and better understand how commonplace lead was in their schools' water supplies.
Following the infamous water contamination in Flint, Michigan in 2015, lead in drinking water has gained traction nationwide and with good reason. As a toxic metal, Lead is harmful for health at all ages, but particularly for children under the age of 6. In 2017 alone, Vermont had 480 children under the age of 6 poisoned by lead.
Although several states have passed regulatory legislation on lead testing, lead can still be found in drinking water from the pipes, many of which were made with lead. In 2010, Vermont became one of the first states to reduce lead in plumbing features, and non-compliant fixtures can no longer be sold in the state. However, many of Vermont's schools are made of older buildings, and construction aid that could have been used to replace outdated features has been unavailable since 2007.
Vermont's older buildings are more likely to have lead fixtures, and water that sits in lead pipes and fixtures for longer time periods is more likely to contain higher levels of lead. Schools represent a unique situation because they have multiple faucets, fountains, and other drinking water sources, leading to more potential points of contamination. This pushed the Vermont Department of Health, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education to conduct a pilot program to test for lead in drinking water in 16 of its schools.
The pilot had two goals: build the state's capacity to support schools that test drinking water for lead and form a stronger understanding of how contaminated their school's drinking water is.
Vermont used/is using Lead Testing in Drinking Water at Schools Pilot Program to address this/these challenge(s).
The three departments contacted 16 schools across the state who were served by a municipal water supply system. These schools agreed to test for lead in water from every tap used for drinking or cooking, which resulted in testing nearly 900 taps.
To ensure that all schools had proper resources, each was provided with school-specific sampling plans, letter templates to help schools notify school community members of the program, sample collection training, and result interpretation assistance. The testing protocol followed the EPA's 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools guide.
Following analysis, each school was sent a report with recommendations for water remediation. Any lead levels above 15 ppb were immediately addressed, with all schools ceasing contaminated tap use immediately. Then they worked with drinking water experts to find best possible solutions for lowering lead levels in any water where it was detected. After the problem was fixed, many schools tested the water again before reopening the fixtures for drinking.
- School staff was responsive and followed recommendations for both community notification and water remediation by immediately removing contaminated taps from service
- A common source of lead in drinking water was plumbing features and many schools took long-term action by removing and/or replacing these old fixtures
- With 17% of total samples falling in Vermont's unsafe range for lead, the program prompted schools to fix their taps
- Bottle fill stations that had appropriate filters changed at recommended intervals had safe lead levels (under 1 ppb), so installing filters makes a big difference.
- Because lead cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted schools need to conduct further testing and be reactive to potentially dangerous levels of lead.
- Given the limited lead in school water data, creating a database that aggregates all data could increase overall transparency across the state.
- To increase compliance, sampling forms should be simplified to include less paperwork.
Who Should Consider?
States, counties, or cities looking to gain greater insight on the amount of lead in their drinking water and act accordingly.