Over 90% of Pennsylvania Schools Failed to Remove Lead Pipes

Fewer than one in 10 Pennsylvania schools took action after finding out that their drinking water supply had unsafe levels of lead.

The shocking statistic is part of a larger study by the Pittsburgh-based health advocacy nonprofit Women for a Healthy Environment. The study analyzed how schools addressed health concerns after being notified of their presence. The nonprofit asked 65 random schools if they had addressed increased levels of lead in the drinking water as well as high levels of radon, mold, and lead paint. 

The study revealed that 89 percent of schools even tested their water for lead contamination within the last decade. Of those, 91 percent found lead contamination–but only 9 percent took steps to eliminate lead from the water. Moreover, 33 percent of schools detected lead in the facility’s dust or paint but did nothing to address the problem. 

Lead contamination is especially dangerous for children as it can hinder brain development and lead to learning disabilities. 

In addition to lead, many schools failed to test for other water contaminants. Only 48 percent of schools tested for other contaminants. Of those, 23 percent found hazardous contaminants. 

For mold, only 72 percent of schools ran the original test. Of those schools, 78 percent found mold. For radon, only 20 percent of schools tested. Thirty-eight percent of those schools found unsafe levels of radon. 

Children should be safe in the classroom, yet many schools are failing to even check if there is a problem, let alone address the problem. 

In some districts, parents may not even have alternative ways to protect their children. For example, some Pennsylvania schools have taken to banning the sale of plastic bottled water on school grounds to mitigate plastic waste. Students have been advised to just use the water fountains — which may be riddled with unsafe contaminants. 

While this study only focused on schools in Pennsylvania, unsafe water in schools is a common occurrence. In North Carolina, one in 10 child care centers reported unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water. And EPA data shows these problems are prolific throughout the country.

Parents must do what they can to encourage schools to step up and take responsibility for the safety of students. Schools must be held accountable for regularly testing the safety of their facilities and, when problems are detected, they must take action to make any needed repairs. 

If they refuse to do that, schools should at least get out of the way and ensure that all children have access to purified bottled water if they choose not to risk it at the tap.