Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities

July 3, 2024 by Julia DeAngelo, MPH

Lead is one of the most damning things you can do to a child in their entire life-course trajectory.”  – Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and researcher based in Flint, Michigan

In August 2015, Dr. Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician noticed that the percentage of her patients with elevated lead levels had increased after the city of Flint improperly treated river water the year prior, which damaged pipes that created the lead-contaminated, undrinkable drinking water. Her advocacy efforts helped to sound the alarm on the Flint lead water crisis that summarized in What The Eyes Don’t See, a nationally-recognized book.[1] Ten years later, Flint’s tap water continue to show the presence of lead, but the levels are within federal and state standards.[2]

As a member of the American School Health Association Board of Directors, Children’s National Hospital attended a meeting in May 2024 on reducing lead in drinking water in schools and child care facilities at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, DC. In 2019, the American School Health Association along with 12 federal and non-federal partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding to accelerate testing and remediation of lead in drinking water in schools and child care facilities.[3] The goal of the meeting was to identify collaborative initiatives to support effective and sustainable state programs and partnerships to accelerate lead testing and remediation in drinking water in schools and child care facilities. Partnerships include coordination across the federal government, tribes, water utilities, non-profit organizations and the public health community.

There are an estimated 400,000 schools and child care centers that may have elevated levels of lead in their water.[4] Currently, there is no mandated lead testing for school buildings and more than half do not test since they are obligated to replace lead pipes if they discover lead. Among schools that have tested, more than one-third found elevated lead levels in their water. The EPA’s 3Ts – Training, Testing, and Taking Action have been developed to prepare schools, child care facilities, and states to build a voluntary implementation program to reduce lead levels in drinking water.

There is no safe level of exposure to lead. Lead is a neurotoxin that can irreversibly harm brain development in children. Lead seeps into our drinking water from lead pipes, which corrode over time and release lead particles into passing water. These pipes are most prevalent in older homes and buildings. Due to decades of inequitable and poor infrastructure development, lead poisoning disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color.[5]

In May 2024, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $3 billion through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to replace toxic lead pipes. Through the Lead Pipe and Pain Action Plan, President Biden made a commitment to replace every lead pipe in the country within a decade. This fall the EPA is expected to update regulations that would give most cities until the late 2030s to replace lead pipes connecting homes and businesses to city water mains.[6]

There are ways to prevent and decrease lead exposure. A blood lead test is the best way to determine if a child has had lead poisoning and every child gets screened for blood lead levels at their 12 month and 2-year well-child visit.[7] Individuals can also contact their state governments to find out the status of how they have used the funding for testing and remediation of lead in drinking water in schools and child care communities.

Visit these additional resources to learn more:

Children’s National is focusing on building a stronger early childhood education (ECE) community as part of its 2022-2025 Community Health Improvement Plan. Learn more at Reflections on our Early Childhood Education Workgroup in the First Year – CHAI News & Views (


[1] WKAR Public Media. Book Tells Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha’s Story of Flint Water Crisis (September 12, 2018). Available from

[2] National Public Radio. It’s Been 10 Years Since the State of a Devastating Water Crisis in Flint, Mich. (April 25, 2024). Available from

[3] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Memorandum of Understanding Partners on Reducing Lead Levels in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities. (October 2019). Available from

[4] The White House. Fact Sheet: The Biden-⁠Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan (December 16, 2021). Available from,and%20privately%2Downed%20service%20lines.

[5] The White House. Fact Sheet on Biden-⁠Harris Administration Announces $3 Billion to Replace Toxic Lead Pipes and Deliver Clean Drinking Water to Communities Across the Country. (May 2, 2024). Available from

[6] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements. Available from

[7] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Testing for Lead Position in Children (April 16, 2024). Available from,and%20have%20no%20record%20of%20ever%20being%20tested..

About the author

Julia DeAngelo, MPH

Program Manager for School Strategies within the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital