71% of Texas schools test positive for lead in drinking water

Updated tally includes hundreds of additional tests
For Immediate Release:

AUSTIN – 779 Texas schools have found lead in their drinking water, according to an analysis of testing data by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. The analysis, an update of one completed in March, includes hundreds of additional tests from Austin, Houston, Humble, Alief, Garland and Northwest Independent School Districts. Environment Texas Research and Policy Center also offered a new toolkit to help parents, teachers, and administrators Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water.  Citing a lack of accurate information on lead contamination in water and how schools should prevent it, Environment Texas Research and Policy Center encouraged parents and teachers to put the new toolkit on their “back to school” reading list.

“Our kids deserve safe drinking water at school,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.  “We want to give parents, teachers, and school administrators the tools they need to ‘get the lead out.’”

In Austin, nine schools and school buildings have tested positive for lead in the last year: Ridgetop, Sanchez, Widén, Zavala, Pleasant Hill, and Barrington elementary schools, the Burger Activity Center, Becker House and the Noack Sports Complex. AISD Superintendent Cruz wrote "All tests showed safe, acceptable levels in our schools' water" but, in fact, EPA has “set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics also says "there is no safe level of blood lead concentration for children" and says we should "ensure water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of more than 1 part per billion."

Some schools found very high levels of lead. For example, in Houston ISD the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts found lead at 95.6 parts per billion (ppb) and Edison Middle School found lead at 466 ppb. 

Moreover, such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Only 1088 out of roughly 8000 Texas schools have tested and no public data is available for private schools. And as noted in the toolkit, most schools built before 2014 have plumbing and/or fixtures that can leach lead into drinking water.  And at some older schools, the service lines that bring water from the mains in the street into buildings are made entirely of lead.

Environment Texas’s toolkit includes a factsheet, a video, sample materials to press for action, and links to additional resources, especially on technical questions like proper testing.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Austin physician Dr. Whitney Schwarz, “I strongly recommend parents get the facts about lead contamination of drinking water and how to prevent it.”  

School districts are largely left to address lead contamination on their own, as current state law does little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. There is currently no federal or state law that requires Texas schools to take action when there is elevated levels of lead in the drinking water. Earlier this year, Environment Texas gave Texas a grade of F in addressing this threat to children’s health.

Environment Texas Research and Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our water, air and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.