Most School Districts Do Not Test for Lead In Drinking Water

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Most Middle Tennessee school districts do not test for lead in the water students drink according to a survey by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Many claim they are not required to test - despite the fact the EPA "strongly recommends" testing.

Metro school officials just announced they plan to test every school water fountain for lead in the final weeks of summer break following questions raised by our investigation.

But we found that Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford, Robertson, Cheatham, Maury and Montgomery County Schools have not tested for lead in the last three years.

Only Sumner County said it had conducted testing, and the Franklin Special School District said it has scheduled tests before the start of the upcoming school year.

State Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, sponsored a bill last legislative session that would have required districts to test for lead in schools built before 1986.

That is the year the federal government banned the use of lead pipes.

"I can't imagine what the issue is. It may be fear of having to remediate," Staples said.

His bill failed after lawmakers focused on the potential cost to school districts.

"We don't know if there's a problem, so let's find out if there's one. Don't let the problem find us," Staples said.

Many school districts told us they rely on their local water utilities to test for lead.

Montgomery County Schools touted the safety and reliability of the city's water supply.

But activists say that logic is misguided.

"We've used lead in pipes and plumbing and in faucets and fixtures -- and it's a widespread problem," said John Rumpler with Environment America.

In fact, the EPA warns that water supplied by a city can actually become contaminated after it enters a school - as it flows through lead based valves, soldered joints and old pipes on its way to water fountains.

That's why the EPA recommends that individual schools be tested.

"We urge the schools to do more to protect kids from any level of lead in the water they drink," Rumpler said.

Twenty schools in Montgomery county were built before 1986, as were 10 in Wilson County and eight in Williamson County.

School officials say many of the buildings have been renovated, but there is no requirement to replace the pipes.

"It's a big concern for me, and that's the whole reason I want to see this piece of legislation pass," Staples said.

Staples said it costs $20 a test, and schools would not have to test more than ten locations in a building.

He said money should not stand in the way of children's health.

"If you measure one kid getting sick from ingesting lead verses $200 per school, how do you measure that?" Staples asked.

The state representative promises to bring his bill back up next year.

Special Section:
NC5 Investigates: Lead in School Water

Print this article Back to Top