WASHINGTON — A survey of school districts around the country finds that less than half test their water for lead, and among those that do more than a third detected elevated levels of the toxin, according to a federal report released Tuesday.
Lead can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in children.
The report, released by the Government Accountability Office, is based on a survey of 549 school districts across the United States. It estimates that 41 percent of school districts, serving 12 million students, did not test for lead in the water in 2016 and 2017.
Of the 43 percent that did test for lead, about 37 percent reported elevated levels. Sixteen percent of schools said they did not know whether they test for lead, the report says.
A 2005 memorandum signed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance to schools, including a testing protocol and suggestions for disseminating results, educating the school community about the risks and health effects of exposure and what actions should be taken to correct the problem.
But there are still major information gaps, the report says, and no federal law that requires schools to test for lead.
“Without information on key topics, such as a recommended schedule for lead testing, how to remediate elevated lead levels, and information associated with testing and remediation costs school districts are at risk of making misinformed decisions regarding their lead testing and remediation efforts,” the report says.
More than half of the schools that didn’t test for lead said they didn’t identify a need for testing, and noted that they’re not required to do so.
The report makes seven recommendations that include updating existing guidance to help schools choose a level that would trigger remediation, increasing collaboration between agencies and improving efforts to communicate to school districts the importance of lead testing and information about what actions to take if lead is detected.
EPA agreed with the report’s recommendations, and the Education Department in its response agreed to improve its website to make information about lead testing more accessible.