The Roundup -

DEQ & DPHHS Urge Schools To Test For Lead In Drinking Water

Schools have until Dec. 2021 to Test

 

August 25, 2021 | View PDF



Helena - Schools across Montana are testing their drinking water for lead ahead of the Dec. 31, 2021 deadline outlined in the DPHHS Administrative Rules of Montana regarding matters of public health in schools. Dozens of school districts have already received their results and are in the process of remediating plumbing fixtures after testing in some locations showed elevated levels of lead.

To ensure the water in Montana public schools is safe to drink, DPHHS requires all accredited K-12 schools to periodically sample all sinks and drinking fountains that could reasonably be used for human consumption. When any of the samples show lead levels above health-based action levels determined by DPHHS and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the plumbing fixture must be taken out of use or be subject to a flushing program until remediation can occur. Follow-up testing must be conducted to ensure the effectiveness of the remediation efforts.  

To date, 41 schools have sampled for lead and all exceedances have resulted in either remediation or discontinued use of the fixture.

“Testing is important for children’s health. We hope to see schools testing as soon as possible to not only protect kids’ health, but also take the opportunity to apply for remediation and testing funding,” said Amy Steinmetz, Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) water quality division administrator. “We applaud the schools that have already tested and look forward to working with more school districts across the state.”

DEQ maintains all school sampling data on their website. A new dashboard launching this month makes it easier for the schools to upload data and automatically populates the results for the public to view. To view the dashboard visit: https://mtdeq.equisonline.com/Default.aspx?d=16234658.

DEQ has partnered with DPHHS to implement the Lead in Schools Drinking Water Program to provide technical assistance to schools for sampling and remediation. The cost of initial samples for all public schools are covered entirely by funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Testing in School and Child Care Program Drinking Water Grant and administered through the DEQ.

Drinking water fountains provide free access to municipal water and offer an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of school facilities planning and maintenance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is possible for people to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes—though this is not the main way the virus spreads. Since the CDC called for the replacement of high-touch, communal fixtures, such as water fountains, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many schools across the country have used CARES Act funds to replace their outdated, communal water fountains. Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act may also provide schools additional opportunities to address plumbing infrastructure in response to COVID-19. By switching to water bottle filling stations and/or motion activated fixtures, Montana schools can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other communicable diseases while also eliminating potential sources of lead.

As noted by the CDC, protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect learning, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. 

Lead exposure is a perennial problem because there are many sources of potential exposure. Elevated lead in blood can come from exposure to lead from a number of different sources including lead containing paint, dust, toys, and water. If your child’s school testing showed elevated lead levels in drinking water, a great solution is to fill a reusable water bottle with filtered water from home for use at school. For information on testing your home water supply, visit: DEQ Drinking Water site. If you are concerned about lead exposure for your child, please contact your health care provider or local health department to find out how to test your child’s blood for lead.

Resources:

CDC Lead Poisoning Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/default.htm

CDC Lead Fact Sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Lead_FactSheet.html

EPA Learn About Lead: https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead

About DEQ: At the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, our mission is to champion a healthy environment for a thriving Montana. DEQ is charged with maintaining and improving Montana’s air, land, and water. For more information about DEQ programs, please visit: deq.mt.gov. 

About DPHHS: The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services seeks to promote and protect the health, well-being, and self-sufficiency of all Montanans. DPHHS works to protect adults from abuse and financial exploitation, serve people with developmental disabilities, fund the treatment of adults and children with mental health and/or substance abuse issues, determine eligibility for various assistance programs, oversee child support payments, protect children from abuse and neglect, and implement various public health programs.

 

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