Dive Insight:

Water contaminated with lead was found in the New York City and Los Angeles school systems in 2018, and, since 2016, the metal has been detected in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Portland, Oregon. Lead can get into schools’ water systems through fixtures and solder.

Few states require testing for lead, but more than 40% of school districts have still tested their buildings. Of those, only 37% have addressed lead levels. In Maryland, a state that requires testing, Montgomery County Schools found 1.8% of more than 13,000 water fixtures had over-the-limit lead levels. Addressing the issue cost the district about $500,000.

Smaller childcare facilities are also more likely to have lead pipes, especially those in private homes, and children under 6 are at the highest risk of being affected by lead-contaminated water. Children’s growing bodies absorb lead more easily than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the effects. Lead exposure can cause learning and behavior problems, hyperactivity, lower IQs, inhibit growth and cause anemia.

Its effects don’t end with childhood. Children exposed to lead can also experience problems later in life, according to a study. Children with elevated blood lead levels had lower IQ test scores and lower socioeconomic status at age 38 than their peers, as well as compared to those with lower exposure to lead during childhood. For every 5 mcg/dl children had in their blood, their IQ dropped 1.61 points by age 38.