Drinking Water Safety in Schools: Montana joins the growing movement
Posted on January 16, 2020 Erica Walker
On January 7th, Montana joined 14 other states and the District of Columbia in protecting children’s health by requiring school districts to test drinking water for lead. State environmental health agencies acted independently and we applaud the agency collective for taking this important step!
Lead poses some of the most extensively studied human health risks in history, yet this dangerous metal can still be found in our products and throughout our built environment. In building plumbing systems, lead can be present irrespective of school age or facility type. Sadly, many schools unknowingly purchased leaded drinking and cooking water devices because manufacturers were allowed to label products with up to 8% lead “lead-free” until 2014. Several state-wide testing programs discovered lead was commonly found in school buildings. In fact, over 60% of tested schools in Indiana and Massachusetts tested above state action thresholds.
Montana’s rule applies to all public and private K-12 schools and requires facilities to:
- Submit and maintain an inventory of plumbing materials including service lines
- Collect 250 mL first-draw samples from all fixtures used for human consumption by December 31st, 2021
- Submit results electronically to the Department of Environmental Quality within 72 hours of receiving results
- Make results publically available to the school community
- Unless waiver received, create and implement a flushing program by September 1, 2021
- Follow a “bin” system when testing results arrive to determine remedial and follow up sampling measures
|Lead Concentration||Action Required per Montana Rule|
|Above 15 ppb||Discontinue use immediately and remediate. Resample and show effectiveness before turning the fixture back on. Resample again in one year of remediation and return to reservice.|
|Between 5 ppb-15 ppb||Discontinue use or implement daily flushing. Evaluate conditions and reduce concentrations to below 5 ppb. Resample within 1 year of the last sample.|
|Below 5 ppb||Routine Monitoring- Resample every 3 years unless waiver is received.|
What We Like About this Rule
With this policy, Montana acknowledges that testing is the best way to discover which schools may unknowingly be exposing children to lead. Importantly, the rule does not appear to allow an opt out for “newer” schools. Many states apply testing requirements to facilities built before 1986 or 2000, which roughly relates to changing plumbing regulations, but may give schools built within the last 30 years a false sense of security for reasons we explain above. The state also asks schools to note lead service lines during the plumbing inventory, which is an uncommon but protective provision as many assume that lead was not used to service large facilities.
The regulation lays out fairly progressive guidelines for remediation, reflects some of the current science on lead variability, and encourages action at a responsible level since national standards still allow lead in brand new plumbing materials. Unless these standards change, many schools and daycares may not be able to reduce lead to the American Academy of Pediatrics health recommendation of 1 ppb.
State Laws & EPA’s Lead & Copper Rule Revisions
In a surprising move, EPA’s proposed revisions to the Lead & Copper Rule would require water utilities to test 20% of all childcare facilities and schools in their service area each year. Many state testing policies would be more strict than the new federal standard, as the LCRR only asks utilities to test a very limited number of fixtures in schools (5 taps) and childcare facilities (2 taps). Based on existing state-wide programs, we estimate this inadequate protocol would ask utilities examine just 8% of all drinking water sources in an average building. As with testing waivers based on school built year, testing a limited number of fixtures could give school communities misleading information about water quality. However, in some cases the federal rule may nudge states with existing provisions forward. As we see in Montana, some state laws apply to either childcare facilities or schools but not both, which means state agencies will need to overlay or reconcile Washington’s policy with their own.
Schools, state agencies, water utilities and childcare facilities interested in learning more about how to locate and reduce lead sources in large buildings should attend our upcoming complimentary webinar on remediation strategies. The webinar takes place January 30th at 1pm and will cover:
- Data management strategy & remediation decision making
- Most common problem areas in buildings
- Strategies to pinpoint sources of lead
- Long-term and short term remediation approaches