Reducing lead exposure in school water: Evidence from remediation efforts in New York City public schools

Aug. 12, 2021

Following the Flint Water Crisis, many states passed legislation requiring schools to measure and remediate lead in school drinking water. In this study, Scott Latham and Jennifer Jennings present new evidence on the level and distribution of lead in school drinking water by examining the case of New York City, which tested water from every public school fixture in the 2016-17 school year, remediated fixtures that showed elevated levels of lead above 15 ppb, and retested a sample of fixtures in 2018–19. Prior to remediation, 8 % of fixtures showed elevated levels of lead; after remediation, 5 % of fixtures did. In both pre- and post-remediation periods, Black children attended schools with a higher proportion of elevated fixtures than White, Asian, and Hispanic children. Latham and Jennings observe post-remediation lead exposure reductions that were largest for Black children, though racial disparities in exposure remained. Together, their results show that New York City's remediation efforts significantly reduced lead in its schools' drinking water in a short period of time, providing evidence of the promise of such efforts. However, the continued presence of lead in school drinking water and persistent racial disparities in exposure demonstrate the ongoing challenges to eradicating lead exposure in schools.