What to know about lead in Georgia schools’ drinking water

Even as other states have moved to require school drinking water to be tested for lead, no law requires testing water for lead in Georgia schools or day care centers.

Atlanta Public Schools decided to test its water fountains and sinks this spring, after news of dangerously high lead levels in Flint, Michigan. 

DeKalb County schools and Fulton County schools are also testing schools' water.

Several metro Atlanta school districts said they rely on local water utilities to test drinking water. But those tests are conducted at various sites in the county or service area. They don’t measure the lead levels in water from fountains or sinks inside schools.

But experts say even voluntary testing and repairs, like those under way in Atlanta, aren’t a guarantee the water students drink is safe.

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“You can never say with certainty as long as you have lead plumbing the water is safe,” said Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor who led research uncovering dangerous lead levels in drinking water in Flint and Washington, D.C.

» Read more: Experts: Lead testing is no guarantee of safe water in schools

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that school water fountains not exceed lead concentrations of 1 part per billion. Even low levels of lead in children’s blood can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, slowed growth and other problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Results to date for Atlanta schools show levels above 15 parts per billion in one or more water fountains or sinks in 25 of 60 schools. In total, 39 of the 1,542 school water fountains and sinks tested had levels above 15 parts per billion.

Levels at several schools were as high as 15 times the federal limit for water utilities. High lead levels were also found at some administrative buildings. Results from all 113 buildings tested are expected later this summer.

» Read more: Atlanta school-by-school lead testing results

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