The news reports are in advance of an investigative report to be released next week, but it appears children may be exposed to lead at school. The fountain at issue had lead present in the drinking water 7 times greater than the maximum level for drinking water of 15 parts per billion set by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
I don't believe this problem is unique to the Los Angeles Unified School District. Any school with older pipes is at risk for having lead in the drinking water.
Why is lead there? And why do we care? Lead is present usually from the water pipes conveying the water, and not from the water source itself. Faucets and fittings may also leach lead. We care because children are especially susceptible to lead exposure. Exposure to lead at low levels can cause impaired hearing, lowered IQ, reduced attention span and a host of other adverse health effects.
What can you do? Ask about the water at your child's school or daycare. If the school is older, see if the school staff knows about the pipes. Lead pipes were used before 1930’s. Lead pipes are dull gray in color and are soft. In the 1930’s, galvanized metal pipes or copper pipes replaced lead pipes in most residential plumbing. Galvanized metal pipes are gray or silver-gray, and were used between the 1920s and the 1950s. Galvanized pipes are usually fitted together with threaded joints. However, compounds containing lead may have been used to seal the threads joining the pipes. Copper pipes are red brown and were used after the 1930s. Copper pipe joints were typically sealed together with lead-based solders until about 1988. Lead can leach from the lead-based solder into the drinking water supply.
If the pipes are older, ask whether the water has been tested. It should have been, but you never know. If it hasn't see if you can get the school to test.
Some simple steps to reduce exposue to lead in drinking water – let it run! Let it run 15 to 30 seconds to flush. If the water has been still for more than 6 hours, let it run until you feel the water temperature change – may be as much as 2 minutes. To soothe the inner environmentalist, collect the water and use for a non drinking water purpose. Use water from an alternate source – such as bottled water. Use only cold water for food and beverage preparation. Install point-of use devices to reduce lead.