Recent EPA Grants Can Help Move Needle on School Lead Testing
Posted on May 7, 2019 Isaac Pellerin
Cost-analysis shows more than $1 billion needed to tackle lead in schools, daycares
INDIANAPOLIS (May 7, 2019) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it will issue more $43.7 million in grants across all 50 U.S. states, which is money that can be used to help test drinking water for lead contamination in public schools and childcare facilities. Water-quality experts say that money can help knock down the $1.08 billion estimated price-tag to implement much-needed programs that can help protect students from potential lead exposure.
The aging water infrastructure problem came to light with Flint, Michigan five years ago, but not much has been done since then to address the risk of lead in school drinking water across the more than 98,000 public-school facilities throughout the United States. According to Erica Walker, director of lead programs with 120Water, an Indiana-based firm that helps government agencies, water utilities, and facilities tackle lead-testing, schools at a higher risk than other types of facilities.
“Because many schools and childcare buildings are older than the earliest laws reducing lead in plumbing materials, we estimated that a majority of schools and childcare facilities will discover at least some sources of lead throughout their drinking water systems,” said Walker.
120Water recently released a cost-analysis, titled Reducing Lead in Schools and Childcare Facility Drinking Water for all 50 states, estimating the cost to test and implement remediation across all public schools and regulated daycares throughout the country. The analysis estimates among public-schools alone, it could cost up to $209 million just to analyze water samples, and in excess of $400 million to cover the gamut – which would include analyzing samples, remediating fixtures and running the recurring program.
“It’s a high price tag that far exceeds the WIIN grant funding, but those federal dollars are a good start,” said Walker, who recommends states invest some of their WIIN grants in data collection and management as a first step to determine the scope of the problem.
Walker says cost and data are two of the biggest hurdles in addressing lead risk.
“To identify lead sources, schools first need to gather facility data and take water samples,” said Walker. “This information is crucial to informing a larger funding strategy and to developing remediation solutions.”
120Water recently completed data collection and analysis for the State of Indiana, involving more than 900 school building across 92 counties.
The company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Megan Glover, recently issued an op-ed across the country, clarifying the challenges that go beyond the absence of policy that Environment America focused on its Get the Lead Out report. The report gave many states a failing grade in passing policy to make lead-testing in schools mandatory.
“Policy is not the singular answer to the problem,” said Glover. “It can be a force to standardize and prioritize resources and budgets to address the issue, but as it stands now in the absence of federal regulations, states are being left to set up their own programs and testing requirements. Some states centralize programs at the state level, others choose to decentralize the responsibility — passing the obligation, accountability and cost directly to school facilities. And some states do nothing because funding and resources are simply not available.”
Glover applauds states that are taking steps to establish lead-testing programs related to schools and childcare facilities – particularly calling out Massachusetts and Indiana.
“Massachusetts and Indiana are models for how states have been proactive in starting comprehensive voluntary programs that have the ability to inform policy within their state and others,” said Glover.
To download a copy of the Reducing Lead in Schools and Childcare Facility Drinking Water state-by-state cost-analysis report, click here.