Child Care Facilities and Schools
Why child care facilities and schools are important
Children spend a large portion of their day at school or in child care facilities, when they are not at home. Approximately 55 million children in the US are enrolled in public or private schools, and over 6 million children under the age of 5 attend child care outside of the home on a regular basis. It is important to ensure the safety of the drinking water in these facilities, not only for the children, but also for staff.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, only those facilities that run their own water systems (about 10% of schools and approximately 8,000 child care facilities) are federally mandated to test drinking water at their site. The other child care facilities and 90% of schools depend on municipal and privately owned water sources, which perform sampling to identify system-wide problems. Some school districts and water utilities are increasing the sampling at schools.
However, the lead content of drinking water at many early learning environments, unless tested voluntarily or via state mandate, may be unknown. Many of these facilities are very old—the average age of the typical school building in the U.S. is more than 50 years old—and may have old plumbing pipes, solder and fixtures that contain lead.
Given the importance of reducing exposure to lead at schools and child care facilities, explicit attention should be given to them in developing LSL replacement initiatives. A useful resource is the U.S. Department of Education’s “Find a School” search tool. You may also want to connect with local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies to identify locations of child care programs for inventorying and prioritizing purposes.
EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools is a helpful resource that provides an approach for schools to address lead in drinking water. Lead in a school drinking water system could be coming from lead solder, brass fixtures, brass piping, a brass service line, or a lead service line. Smaller school buildings are more likely to have a lead service line than larger school buildings. The 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools document can help a school diagnose where the lead might be coming from.
Special considerations for child care programs and schools
Lead in drinking water is a concern for both schools and child care facilities. However, lead service lines, specifically, are more likely to be present in smaller child care facilities than in schools.
- Diverse facilities—Schools and child care programs fall under various types of regulatory and administrative oversight and can be located in different types of facilities. There are different types of schools, including public schools, private schools, and charter schools, therapeutic boarding schools, and residential treatment centers. Child care programs are equally diverse, and include large, corporate, center-based child care facilities, small after school care centers, church-based preschools, and family home child care programs. Implementation of service line replacement in each of these entities will entail navigating different systems with unique considerations for protocol.
- Everyone, including public agencies, must have prior permission to enter school property and school buildings. To initiate LSL replacement with a district or public school within a district, you should first approach the building principal or the district superintendent and/ or a locally elected board member. To initiate a replacement dialogue with an independent, private school, request a meeting with the head of the school.
- Local school districts are local public agents. Most own their property, and are thus likely to be responsible for the service lines from the street into their buildings, as well as for plumbing fixtures that may also contain lead.
- Check the target state's level of funding for school construction or renovation. Additional sources of funds may be needed.
- Partners—School nurses and child care nurses or health consultants may be helpful with regard to mobilizing health-related projects in early learning environments. It may be advantageous to engage with them early on in LSL replacement planning process. Community and parent groups, such as PTAs, PTOs, or PTCs and sports or after-school clubs can also be important and effective partners in a school or child care LSL replacement project. Partnerships with local health departments are critical to help reduce risks from internal plumbing fixtures. In addition, training of school and child care staff in proper flushing and other strategies is important post LSL replacement in order to reduce risk from possible lead disturbance.
- Construction needs may differ for school property than for other buildings or facilities. For example, work may need to be done during off hours. Some states have specific regulations that require the protection of children and other school occupants during the renovation of an occupied school. Best practices include: prior notice of construction; a public meeting to review how children will be protected from noise, dust and fumes during all phases of work; fencing; scheduling the use of heavy equipment; and the contractor's responsibility for all construction workers, for maintaining a clean work site, and for ensuring the integrity of fire safety systems onsite.
- Contractors should be required to undergo a more rigorous background check to work on school or child care facilities; and all construction workers should wear id badges, have limited access to buildings, and should have their own designated toilet facilities onsite.