AP Investigation Finds Schools Nationwide Have Contaminated Drinking Water

The Associated Press has found schools with contaminated drinking water in all 50 states -- in cities large and small, rural and urban.

The AP reported:

"But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government, even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied.

" 'It's an outrage,' said Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality. 'If a landlord doesn't tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?'

"The contamination is most apparent at schools with wells, which represent 8 to 11 percent of the nation's schools. Roughly one of every five schools with its own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzed by the AP."

The investigation found that "water in about 100 school districts and 2,250 schools breached federal safety standards." Other highlights include:

  • "Those schools and districts racked up more than 5,550 separate violations. In 2008, the EPA recorded 577 violations, up from 59 in 1998 -- an increase that officials attribute mainly to tougher rules.
  • "California, which has the most schools of any state, also recorded the most violations with 612, followed by Ohio (451), Maine (417), Connecticut (318) and Indiana (289).
  • "Nearly half the violators in California were repeat offenders. One elementary school in Tulare County, in the farm country of the Central Valley, broke safe-water laws 20 times.
  • "The most frequently cited contaminant was coliform bacteria, followed by lead and copper, arsenic and nitrates."

Additional resources

In 2004, states told the EPA what they intended to do to control lead in school water supplies. It would be interesting to see if the states really did what they intended to do, given all of the budget cuts they're facing. You can read the plans here:

The EPA has plenty of other resources that can help with your coverage of lead in school drinking water. It also offers guidance for schools and information about the quality of drinking water in child care facilities and schools.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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