Testing Water in Childcare Facilities: National Report Finds Need to Standardize


Flint brought national attention back to lead in water in homes and schools, but a critical gap isn't being addressed: childcare facilites. 4 million children in the United States under 5 spend most of their days in commercial or residential based childcare facilities. Kids under 5 are the most vulnerable population to lead exposure. They are the ones who absorb lead the easiest, and who lead harms the most. 

This week, the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) released their report highlighting the importance of testing water in childcare facilites. Healthy Homes collaborated with this national pilot study, by collecting and analyzing water samples at two local sites. The report results demonstrate the need for a consistent standard of testing in childcare facilities throughout the United States, as well as amendment to the current "safe" levels of lead in drinking water in childcare faciliities. The study looked at 11 childcare facilities overall in Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois, and 2 here in Grand Rapids. 

Overall, local partners, including Healthy Homes, tested over 1,500 water samples, resulting in the replacement of 26 of 294 (9%) fixtures. In addition, two lead service lines--the lead pipes connecting the the main ones under the street to buildings--were identified  and replaced at two facilities in Chicago, and one in a suburb of Cinnicinati.

A few of the key findings of the report:

  • Most of the water samples (75%) had lead levels below 1 ppb (parts per billion)
  • Seven of the 11 facilites had at least one sample above EDF's health-based benchmark for action of 3.8 ppb
  • Two of the seven facilities had at least one sameple above 80 ppb--16 times higher than the lead level allowed in bottled water.

Based on these findings, the recommendations of the report:

  • Require testing for lead in water in child care facilities to identify sources of lead.
  • Strengthen the NSF international 5 ppb leachability standard to reduce lead in new fixtures.
  • Set an interim action level of 5 ppb to investigate and remediate lead sources.
  • Replace lead service lines in child care facilites when found through review of historical records and visual inspection.

The report concludes that child care facility operators,state licensing agencies, and health departments will need support from EPA, water utilities and NSF international will need to work together closely to succeed in testing and reducing lead in water. So far, only seven states (CT, IL, NH, NJ, OR, RI, WA) and New York City have requirements for drinking water to be tested in childcare facilities.

There is current no uniform standard among these about action levels, communication, or testing protocol. The EPA calls for action at 15ppb in fixture samples or 20ppb in schools and childcare facilities, but these may be insufficient. The report calls for a specific standard as well as a lowered action level to 5 ppb to protect children from lead exposure.  Right now, childcare facilities can follow the EPA's 3T voluntary guidelines to help keep children safe, and stay aware of changes to regulations.