Watchdog: Fewer than half of all school districts test for lead in drinking water

Watchdog: Fewer than half of all school districts test for lead in drinking water
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A government watchdog report released Tuesday found that in 2017 fewer than half of all school districts tested their drinking water for lead levels.

The schools that tested for lead serve 35 million students, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that 37 percent of those tests found elevated lead levels.

GAO opened the investigation following requests from Democrats in Congress who wanted the watchdog to look into state and school district practices for lead testing and remediation efforts.

“The findings in this report are disturbing and unacceptable,” the Democrats, lead by House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), said in joint statement. “No child should be put at risk for toxic lead exposure simply by drinking water at school.”

The GAO report additionally found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was partially responsible for the lack of testing at schools. The watchdog found that EPA--which is responsible for submitting guidance on acceptable lead levels in drinking water--has sometimes issued "misleading" guidance.

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"Although EPA guidance emphasizes the importance of addressing elevated lead levels, GAO found that some aspects of the guidance, such as the threshold for taking remedial action, were potentially misleading and unclear, which can put school districts at risk of making uninformed decisions," the GAO report read.

The report added that EPA has not followed through on a 2005 memorandum agreeing to regularly collaborate with state and school districts to familiarize them with the agency's lead guidance.

"Such collaboration could encourage testing and ensure that more school districts will have the necessary information to limit student and staff exposure to lead," the report read.

Democrats called the report a "wake-up call" for the Trump administration.

“The Administration should finalize a stronger Lead and Copper Rule and issue protective guidance requiring lead testing for all public schools," they said.

The GAO found that all schools that found elevated lead levels in drinking water actively worked to mitigate the issue.