Safe Drinking Water in Schools

Adopted October 2018 – Health and Community Concerns Commission

The California State PTA believes that access to clean water is critical to students’ health and ability to learn. Studies show that adequate hydration improves cognition, increases attention spans, and can even improve students’ test scores. It allows body organs and systems to perform at their best. Plain water works to rinse the mouth and, when it is fluoridated, to strengthen dental enamel.

Most drinking water in California meets requirements for health and safety. Sources of drinking water are subject to contamination and require appropriate treatment to remove disease-causing contaminants. Contamination of drinking water supplies can occur in the source water as well as in the distribution system after water treatment has already occurred. There are many sources of water contamination, including naturally occurring chemicals and minerals (for example, arsenic, radon, uranium), local land use practices (fertilizers, pesticides, concentrated livestock operations), manufacturing processes, and sewer overflows or wastewater releases.

The presence of contaminants in water can lead to adverse health effects including gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people whose immune systems are compromised may be especially susceptible to illness from some contaminants.

One contaminant, lead, rarely occurs naturally in California’s drinking water sources, but it may become present when water passes through older plumbing fixtures or solder containing lead.

  • Water can be contaminated in the water mains, service lines, and building plumbing, wherever it is exposed to lead.
  • Water that sits “stagnant” in plumbing that contains lead will hold the lead in suspension.
  • If pipes or fittings containing lead are corroded they can yield tiny particles of lead into water.
  • Utilities treat water to minimize corrosion of the water mains and pipes but this is not always effective.
  • Regulations have progressively lowered the amount of allowable lead in plumbing parts. However, in older schools, the lead in plumbing parts is often still present.

Lead is a toxin that is harmful to health and well-being.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body.  It is important to reduce all exposures to lead, including in drinking and cooking water.  The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.

  • Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect cognitive abilities, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.
  • At high levels, it can harm reproductive and other organ health.
  • When children have elevated blood lead levels, the source is most frequently lead in dust, soil, or old paint.

California regulates drinking water by setting Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for a list of known water contaminants. It also identifies Public Health Goals that identify concentration levels that pose no significant health risks if consumed for a lifetime. The MCLs and reporting requirements are established for local water providers throughout the state.

Every California public school is required to provide quality tap water access to its students. To achieve this goal, the California State PTA believes that school drinking water needs to be tested on an ongoing basis for contaminants that are harmful to the health and well-being of students.  We believe that the State of California has a responsibility to set maximum allowable contaminant levels at concentrations equal to the Public Health Goals.

School Districts need to be provided both financial resources and know-how to assess and improve school water quality. California State PTA supports state and local government efforts and funding initiatives to ensure the availability of safe drinking water throughout communities and school campuses.

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