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How safe is the water at your child's school or day care?

In recent months, the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan has been the focus of much media attention and shined a spotlight on the dangers associated with exposure to the toxic metal. The Flint crisis has also raised awareness about lead exposure throughout the U.S. as well as doubts about the safety of our nation's water supply systems.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires "all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual water quality report," which includes testing for elevated levels of lead. The agency admits, however, that an some “90,000 public schools and half a million child-care facilities are not regulated" or required to regularly test their water supplies. Additionally, even if the test of a municipal water supply does not show elevated lead levels, lead can leach into the water supplies of individual buildings through old pipes and metal fittings.

Schools and day care facilities are especially at risk as many are housed in older buildings with aging plumbing systems and are often vacant for days or even months out of the year. Additionally, other lead sources including old paint and even the soil around schools and day cares may also contain lead.

The results of voluntary testing of public school water systems across the country have indicated that many contain elevated and dangerous levels of lead. Baltimore public schools first became aware of the problem in 1992 and, in response, shut off school water fountains. Subsequently, however, many of these fountains were later turned on thereby exposing thousands of children to lead until the district "decided on a long-term strategy to use bottled water." More recently, elevated lead levels have been found in the water supplies at Newark Public Schools as well as at dozens of other schools throughout the country.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to lead can result in a variety of worrisome symptoms including developmental delays, learning difficulties, fatigue and behavioral problems. Children, especially those under the age of six, are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of lead poisoning as their bodies and brains are still developing. In cases where a child is exposed to lead at a day care facility or school, a parent may choose to consult with an attorney.

Source: USA Today, "Lead taints drinking water in hundreds of schools, day cares across USA," Laura Ungar, March 17, 2016

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