Nearly Two-Thirds of American Schools Have No Idea If There Is Lead in Their Water

In children, exposure can cause a host of long term physical and psychological problems.

Amanda Mills/USCDCP/Pixnio

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Most American schools either haven’t tested their water for lead in the last year or don’t know whether they have. Of the schools that have performed the test, more than a third have report elevated levels. Those are the main findings of a report, based on a survey conducted in 2017, published by the Government Accountability Office on Wednesday.

The 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which exposed as many as 12,000 children to dangerous levels of lead, renewed a national conversation on the dangers of the pervasive problem of lead in the water supply. In children, lead exposure can cause a host of long term physical and psychological problems, including learning disabilities, neurological effects, kidney disease, and aggressive behavior.

“No child should be put at risk for toxic lead exposure simply by drinking water at school,” wrote the House and Senate Democrats, who had requested the report, in a joint statement after its release. “This report should serve as a wake-up call to the Trump Administration that it must take immediate action to address lead in drinking water.”

As part of its report, the GAO issued a set of recommendations to improve lead monitoring in schools. While the agency stopped short of recommending mandatory lead testing in all schools, it asked the EPA to update and clarify guidance materials and testing schedules. It also suggested that the EPA and the Department of Education should work together to “encourage testing for lead in school drinking water.” Currently, just eight states require schools to test for lead, though another 13 help fund schools’ efforts to do so, according to the EPA.  

In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency pledged to work closely with school districts on lead testing, but the report notes that it has not made good on that promise.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend