News Release

New Study: Lead contamination common in Philly school drinking water

In 98% of schools sampled, one or more drinking fountain test positive for lead
For Immediate Release

PHILADELPHIA -- PennPIRG Education Fund, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality (BCC) released a new report Wednesday reviewing data on self-reported samples for lead in drinking water from 65 Philadelphia public schools. Lead in the Water showed that 98% of the Philadelphia public schools tested had drinking water samples contaminated with lead, and 61% of all outlets tested across the district were tainted with lead. Outlets include water fountains, kitchen faucets, hydration stations, and classroom and bathroom sinks. 

An interactive web page was also launched along with the report. That resource will allow community members to easily find the test results for their neighborhood schools. This can be found at pennpirg.org/PhillyLeadMap.

“Schools should be safe places where our kids go to learn, achieve, and grow up to be productive citizens in society," stated PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center Executive Director David Masur. "Instead, our study shows the pervasive threat of lead in drinking water faces Philadelphia kids when they enter our school buildings. It's time for district officials to address this threat once and for all.”

Besides looking at trends across the school district, the report also includes specific data about each individual school where district officials tested for lead. Some of the major findings include: 

  • The highest lead sample found was 8,768 parts per billion (ppb) at an outlet at Duckrey Public School. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no safe level of lead and the allowable level in Philadelphia is 10ppb. 

  • Longstreth Elementary School had the most outlets with lead contamination, 49 out of 56.

  • Duckrey Elementary had the highest percentage (100%) of outlets with lead, 7 out of 7 outlets tested had lead levels over 10 ppb. Two schools tied for the second highest percentage (90%) of outlets with lead contamination: Bethune Elementary School (37 of 41) and Moffet School (27 of 30).

“We possess a sacred charge to care for each child as our own, to guarantee that their schools are safe spaces for them to learn, grow, eat, and drink,'' said Pastor Willie Francois, President of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. “With that, it becomes our moral duty, as a community, to ensure that the water our children consume, while at school, is safe and free from lead.”

The groups have called on district officials to use less than 1% of their $1 billion in federal stimulus funds to replace old water fountains with lead filtering hydration stations. To date, the district has not made this commitment. This action is needed now more than ever, because all of the old water fountains are turned off during the pandemic to prevent students from drinking directly from the mouthpiece and potentially spreading COVID-19. Given this, many students do not have access to drinking water throughout the school day. The few hydration stations that are already in schools are still on, since they can fill a water bottle without direct contact. More hydration stations would ensure that all students have water during this time and after the pandemic is over.

“The extent of lead contamination in our schools’ drinking water is unacceptable,” PennPIRG Education Fund Advocate Emma Horst-Martz said. “The School District of Philadelphia and city leaders must take action to protect Philly’s most vulnerable population from the lifelong effects of lead exposure.”

To write this report, the organizations pulled data on water test samples for lead in school buildings across the city from the School District of Philadelphia, which was required to be made publicly available. The data was then consolidated to not only look at trends across city schools but also determine lead contamination in individual school buildings and compare those totals between locations. 

A law passed by the city council in 2017 requires the school district to test every outlet in every school building across the city by the end of 2022. According to the publicly available data, the district has only tested 29% of school buildings – even though they are 80% of the way through that required timeline.

“Every child needs access to safe and ample drinking water in their schools — the health of our students is critical to their success, and the success of our entire city,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “I was proud to join with advocates and activists to win modern hydration stations for every school and stricter standards against toxins, but we must go further to eliminate the threat of lead and increase water access in every school in Philadelphia. I am grateful for the continued advocacy from PennEnvironment and PennPIRG to help school communities understand the conditions of our schools, and will continue my work to ensure the comprehensive remediation of every school, to provide every student with fresh, safe water.”

“Children, especially those in the pre-K-7 year old age range, and particularly children of color and those from low-wealth communities, are among those most vulnerable to environmental toxins and exposures of all kinds,'' said Jerry Roseman, Director of Environmental Science and Occupational Safety and Health for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund & Union. “Substandard conditions in many school spaces continue to exist and to present health risks to students, as well as staff; ensuring that adequate, accessible and lead-free drinking water is readily available to all students and other school occupants is an absolute bottom line requirement for every school in Philadelphia.”

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The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironmentCenter.org

PennPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing. To learn more, visit our website at www.pennpirgedfund.org.  

The Black Church Center for Justice and Equality is a non profit organization with the mission to reaffirm the social justice tradition of the Black Church by providing a platform for progressive theological debate, public policy advocacy, and public engagement that amplifies the voices of progressive African-American faith leaders. For more about BCC, visit https://theblackchurch.net/

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