Lead in Schools Public Information

Lead In Schools

Lead Reduction in Schools Information for the Public

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has rolled out a Lead Reduction in Schools Drinking Water Rule. This rule was enacted to protect school children by minimizing lead levels in drinking water provided at Montana’s schools.

Children are the most susceptible to lead exposure and spend a large amount of their childhood in schools. It is extremely important that schools are providing safe drinking water.

DPHHS is partnering with Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to provide sampling and remediation technical assistance and guidance to schools.

The requirements for schools are as follows:

1. Starting January 17, 2020, all schools regulated through the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) will be required to sample: all drinking water fountains; kitchen fixtures that can be used for human consumption; and a representative subset of the remaining fixtures. Schools will have two years to complete the sampling.

2. Create and maintain a simple schematic and inventory of plumbing materials, all fixtures, and those that are used for human consumption. Schools are required to prepare a simple sketch or drawing (also could be aerial photo) showing the locations of all their water fixtures. Schools will also prepare a plumbing inventory including list of all fixtures, plumbing types, maintenance or repair history, and general school information. The inventory information will be used to create a sampling plan.

3. Create and implement a water flushing plan. Schools will be required to flush their water systems any time a school has been inactive for greater than three days. Water flushing is an effective way for schools to improve their water quality. It removes stagnant water from pipes and fixtures that may contain higher concentrations of lead.

4. Follow-up actions will be required depending the results of the sampling. Results will be placed into one of three bins (categories)

  • Bin 1 – Lead concentrations greater than 15.0 micrograms per Liter (µg/L) – fixture must be immediately removed from service.

  • Bin 2 – Lead concentrations greater than 5.0 µg/L less than 15.0 µg/L – fixture must be fixed, replaced or removed from service.

  • Bin 3 – Lead concentrations less than 5.0 µg/L – no action is required.

5. Routine sampling required following the initial sampling event.

6. Schools are required to make test results publicly available. Sample results with remediation status will also be available on the DEQ website. (Link, under construction)

Montana DEQ will provide assistance and guidance documents to help schools with these requirements.

Children are especially susceptible to lead exposure because their bodies absorb the metal at higher rates than the average adult. Children younger than six years old are the most at risk due to their rapid growth rate. Exposure to lead can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause reduced IQ, hearing impairment, reduced attention span, and poor classroom performance.

Are all schools required to sample for lead in their drinking water?
All schools that meet the definition below are required to collect samples. This includes public and private schools with the exception of home schools. “School" means a building or structure or portion thereof occupied for the teaching of individuals, the curriculum of which satisfies the basic instructional program approved by the Board of Public Education for pupils in any combination of Kindergarten through Grade 12, but excludes home schools as that term is defined in 20-5-102(2)(e), MCA.

How will schools afford to pay for the sampling?
State of Montana will provide funding for the sample analysis through a grant from the US EPA to assist with testing for lead in drinking water at schools.

Why did Montana go with an action level of 5.0 ug/L?
The EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child's blood. School aged children, especially those six years of age and under, are the most susceptible to the effects of lead. Montana is using 5.0 ug/L because it is the practical quantitation level (PQL) for lead. The PQL is the concentration at which a given analysis will be sufficiently precise to yield a satisfactory quantitative result. Or simply put it is the lowest concentration at which lead can be accurately measured in water.

How do I find out if my child’s school has tested the drinking water for lead?
Contact your school administrator to learn about previous or ongoing efforts to test for and reduce lead in drinking water. You can also check the status of the school sampling on the DEQ Lead Reduction in Schools Drinking Water Program webpage.

Is lead in drinking water the only potential source of lead exposure for kids?
No. Children can be exposed to lead from paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water. Lead can also be brought into homes on clothes and shoes after exposure from leaded dirt, and industrial processes that involves lead. Be sure to change and wash clothes, remove shoes, and shower to avoid tracking lead into the home from soil, work sites, or hobbies. If a child has an elevated blood lead level, it is likely due to lead exposures from a combination of sources.

What should I do if I am concerned about my child’s exposure to lead?
There is no safe blood lead level. In children, even low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, and impaired hearing. If you are concerned about your child’s exposure to lead, contact a health provider to learn more about blood lead testing. The only way to determine a child’s lead level is to have the child’s blood tested.