Federal Push to Get the Lead Out of Water – Homes & Schools

Opportunities in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) and the American Jobs Plan (AJP)


Lead is a toxic heavy metal this can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, often with irreversible consequences. The Centers for Disease C.ontrol, American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organisation all indicate that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even at very low levels it can cause lead severe, irreversible damage to the developing brain and nervous system of babies and young children, which are most susceptible to the adverse effects of lead. Lead can impair a child’s cognitive capacity, cause behavioral problems and limit his ability to concentrate – all of which, in turn, affect his learning potential in school. Children with severe lead-related brain impact are less likely to graduate from high school and more prone to crime, teenage pregnancy, violent crime and incarceration. Lead can cross a pregnant mother’s placental barrier in the womb and harm the fetus.

There is no cure for the adverse effects of lead, but we can solve the problem by removing lead from drinking water in homes and schools.

The ARPA and AJP proposals to remove lead from drinking water

ARPA provides discretionary resources from the state and local governments that can be used to address water infrastructure needs, including replacement of leading service lines. It is estimated that 6 to 10 million American homes receive their water through lead pipes known as service lines that supply water from the street water main to the home. ARPA dollars could be used to replace leading service lines, and the AJP is proposing to allocate $ 45 billion to replace all leading service lines in the United States.

While some smaller, older schools may have managerial service lines, schools rarely have managerial service lines because the small diameter soft, soft lead service lines cannot provide the water flow required in most school buildings. ARPA funding can be used to replace the few leading service lines that connect schools to the water supply, and these funds can also be used to replace leading service lines that are more common in home daycare centers. ARPA funding could also be used to implement the “Filter First” program in schools, as described below.

The cure for schools – hint: they don’t usually have main service lines

The cure for schools is different than for families in the vast majority of cases, as schools rarely have lead service lines (these lines are too small to serve the school population). In schools, lead almost always enters the water when it leaks or flake off plumbing, fittings, pipes, solder and flux in the school buildings. Unfortunately, the solution at the moment is not to replace the internal pipes and fixtures, as there are no truly lead-free products on the market. Consequently, replacing these plumbing components could again lead to schools’ drinking water, which we don’t want.

How lead ends up in school drinking water

Most of our plumbing materials, even brand new pipes, fittings and fixtures, contain lead. Sources of lead in drinking water at school and in childcare include:

  • lead solder installed before 1988 and incorrectly installed after 1988;
  • plumbing supplies not intended for use as potable water;
  • Drinking water coolers from before 1988 with lead-lined tanks;
  • plumbing materials marked “lead-free” containing up to 8% lead by weight sold through January 2014, and materials containing up to 0.25% lead by weight sold from January 2014; and
  • lead service lines in some locations.

Most of the lead in school water comes from plumbing materials that contain lead rather than lead pipes themselves. In the limited circumstances where lead service lines supply water to schools, they should be removed as soon as possible. But replacing pipes and ducts in buildings will eventually lead to the addition of new lead to our school’s drinking water systems.

The myth of truly “lead-free” sanitary products

Today’s sanitary products generally contain lead. In 1986, Congress amended the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, defining “ lead-free ” to specify that solder and flux used for drinking water should contain no more than 0.2 percent lead, and plumbing pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures intended for drinking water use must not contain more than 8 percent lead. In 2011, Congress lowered that level so that “lead-free” in pipes means a weighted average of 0.25 percent and 0.2 percent for solder and flux. These changes were effective in 2014, but non-compliant fixtures could be sold after the effective date until stocks were exhausted, meaning that sanitary products in new construction and remodeled buildings could contain pre-2014 lead levels. The current claims by manufacturers of lead-free plumbing products are generally false – they may meet the misleading federal definition of “lead-free,” but they probably contain some lead. Materials that are not intended for use as drinking water, such as bibs, wash taps and hand wash sinks, have no limits on the lead content of the sanitary materials.

Today’s best remedy to remove lead from drinking water in schools – install new water filtration stations

Since it is impossible to replace pipes without adding new lead to school water systems, the best remedy for schools at the moment is to install new ‘water filter stations’ (water fountains where you can fill a water bottle) with filters certified to the latest situation. version of NSF / ANSI 53 for lead reduction and NSF / ANSI 42 for particle reduction (Class I). Best practices for installation of drinking water filter stations in schools and day care centers can be found here. The certification body must be accredited by the American National Standards Institute National Accreditation Board (ANAB). Certified filters are very effective at removing lead from drinking water when properly maintained and replaced according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Schools can also place filters on kitchen faucets, in teachers’ rooms and in nursing offices.

Replacing plumbing in schools will not remove all lead from school plumbing systems. As mentioned above, current replacement plumbing products would add new plumbing to plumbing systems. It makes sense to wait for truly lead-free products before replacing school supplies. If schools undertake capital improvement plans that include replacing plumbing products at this point, they still need Filter First to ensure lead-free water. Until we take the lead out of plumbing products, there is no point in replacing these components in a school building, especially if there is a cost-effective workaround that would address the problem – the Filter First approach.

How the “Filter First” approach works

As part of the Filter First approach, schools are developing a ‘Drinking Water Safety Plan’ that maps the number and planned locations of required water filter stations (1 station for 100 students / educators). The stations, which must be certified to the latest version of NSF / ANSI 53 for lead reduction and NSF / ANSI 42 for particle reduction, are installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Testing is performed after filtration to ensure that the units are operating correctly. Filters are replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Compared to testing and replacing pipes, Filter First provides immediate safe water. We don’t have to guess if and when lead comes out of a tap; when properly installed and maintained, filters provide reliable water quality.

Filter First is cost effective

Based on our Michigan cost analysis, Filter First is about two-thirds the cost of sporadic sampling and limited fixture replacement programs implemented in states such as New York, Indiana and Washington. The Filter First approach not only costs less, it immediately provides safe drinking water for students and staff. In the first year, Filter First is about two-thirds of the cost of the traditional lead testing approach of school chasing and replacing fixtures with “lead-free” products. In ten years, Filter First costs about a third of the costs of the traditional approach. And this doesn’t take into account the cost of removing and replacing all the plumbing in the school, which of course can be very expensive.

Comments are closed.