In Vermont, USA, the state-mandated lead testing revealed that 98% of its public schools and childcare facilities have lead in their drinking water. Act 66, passed in 2019, requires all public school and childcare facilities in the state to test their drinking and cooking water for lead contamination.
Most of the testing occurred from June 2019 to December 2021 and covered more than 15,000 taps with high lead levels. One in five taps contains elevated levels of lead, high enough to meet the requirements for removal because of the risk it poses to children’s health.
The report found that lead is mainly found in the water fixture rather than the plumbing, which means reparation is less costly and complicated. Around 75% of schools and 14% of childcare facilities have at least one tap that needs remediation. The report estimates the cost of replacing fixtures at less than $500 for 90% of the fixtures that need replacements.
A Threat to Children’s Health
Lead is a serious problem in Vermont. VT Digger article says that during the texting period between 2017 and 2021, state data shows that 2115 kids under the age of 6 had experienced lead poisoning in Vermont. However, there is no public data that links the toxic metal poisoning to contaminated taps.
When asked about the health risks children were exposed to before the fixtures were replaced, Health Commissioner Mark Levine answered that risk comes from drinking taps and exposure to paint chips and antiques.
Health Risks of Lead
Children absorb lead more easily than adults, making them more vulnerable to its effects. No level of lead exposure is considered safe as it accumulates in the body, mainly in the bones.
Lead ingestion can damage body organs like the brain, kidney, lungs, liver, nervous system, and heart, leading to illnesses and even death.
As of 22 March 2022, more than 2,000 taps have been replaced in Vermont. Still, 7000 taps are polluted with lead, and 200 contain lead levels above the federal limit.
According to David Grass, a senior state Department of Health official, faucets that are not often used or have been valved off contain the highest lead level.
Vermont is one of 18 states that mandates lead testing in schools, and each state determines its action levels.
Marc A. Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who helped lead testing efforts during the height of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, praised Vermont’s action level at four parts per billion, as conservative, and the state’s proactive actions to address and fix their lead problems compared to other states.
Aging Water Infrastructure
The article said lead in Vermont’s drinking water is a symptom of a larger problem: the state’s aging public water system.
According to the EPA 2019 report, the state needs $642.9 million in the next 20 years to fix its drinking water infrastructure. A 2021 report also found that the average public school in Vermont was built in 1960. Lead pipes were used for drinking water systems up until the 1950s, and up to 1988, the year it was outlawed, soldering to connect the pipes contains as much as 50% lead.
Limiting the risk of lead contamination in the state will require an overhaul of the state’s water infrastructure, says Ben Montross, drinking water program manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation Drinking Water Protection Division, and the budget can be taken from the Bipartisan infrastructure law passed early this year and the state’s Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.
But until this happens, the state has to rely on its regular and routine lead inspection, which the Department of Health requires every three years, an essential tool to keep their children safe.