Doctors say Minnesota needs to do more to protect kids from lead exposure in school water

January 22, 2019 09:01 AM

Pediatricians, teachers and water quality experts say more needs to be done to protect school kids from exposure to high lead levels at the water fountain.

This school year, a new Minnesota law went into effect requiring public and charter schools to approve a lead water testing plan, conduct drinking water tests in the next five years and share results with parents.

"The law was a really important step," said Timothy Schaefer, state director at Environment Minnesotagetting. "Getting something on the books that schools have to test was a huge victory. But the problem is the specifics are important."


Environment Minnesota will soon begin discussions at the capital trying to add more details to the state law and department policies, including lowering the action point for schools to take action.

More from KSTP:

Kids at Risk: Minnesota schools failing to follow guidelines on testing for lead in water

School districts have discretion to set their own action level, most following the Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Department of Health’s suggestion action on taps above 20 (ppb) of lead in testing plans reviewed by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

"We need to change these standards to keep children safe," said Dr. Jennifer Lowery, a toxicologist with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lowery said Minnesota and other states should ensure school fountains don't exceed lead levels of one ppb.

"What I would recommend and state to lawmakers, is that standards have not caught up to what the science show," Lowery said.

Illinois, Michigan, Washington DC use a lower level of 5 ppb, and Health Canada has proposed that level according to online data.

California recently passed a law setting the action level for schools at 15 ppb, with a state database of results and requirments if elevated lead is detected.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found the Wayzata School District uses 15 ppb as their action point.

Minnesota's Department of Health said it doesn’t monitor any schools testing plans or results.

“The only thing parents should worry about when their children head to school in the morning is whether or not they finished their homework,” said Gov. Tim Walz. "I'm currently working with our Department of Education and our Department of Health to ensure every aspect of our schools—including the drinking water—is held to the highest standard of safety for students all across Minnesota.”


Water Testing Information

To view water testing information on school districts across the metro, click on the links below:

Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools

Bloomington Public Schools

Centennial School District 12

Mounds View Public Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools

Richfield Public Schools

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan ISD 196

Shakopee Public Schools

St. Cloud Public Schools

St. Paul Public Schools

Eden Prairie Schools

Rochester Public Schools

Stillwater Public Schools

Wayzata Public Schools

West-St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan

White Bear Lake Area Schools

Hastings Public Schools

A 2018 Government Accountability Office report said school drinking water would benefit from improved federal guidance. Currently, there is no federal law requiring testing of drinking water for schools on public water systems. 

After that report, some teachers unions across the country echoed a need for new changes.

"A reliable system of testing, remediation, and enforcement in Minnesota's schools is long overdue," said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht.

The state's largest teacher's union, Education Minnesota, said they were eager to see any proposals on this isssue during the legislative session.

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Eric Chaloux

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