Lead testing available for drinking water in schools, child care facilities

The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE), in cooperation with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), has grant funds available for public child care facilities, preschools and elementary schools across the state to sample for lead in their drinking water. Sampling will begin Sept. 1 and end in April 2021.

These funds come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act grant and will be used by DHHS to provide sample kits and laboratory analysis of drinking water samples from schools and child care facilities.

This program focuses on populations that are most at-risk for lead exposure and prioritizes facilities that:
  • serve children 6 years old and younger;
  • are public preschools, elementary schools and child care facilities in underserved and low-income communities; and
  • were built before 1988.

Private elementary schools and child care facilities will be included if funding permits, and in-home child care facilities are not eligible for grant funds. NDEE/DHHS is seeking additional grant funding to expand this opportunity next year.

Participating local health departments are working with NDEE/DHHS to oversee and coordinate the program in their areas. These departments can also help schools and facilities that find lead in their drinking water identify corrective actions to address the source of contamination.

Health departments that are currently participating are:
  • Central District Health Department
  • Dakota County Health Department
  • Douglas County Health Department
  • East Central District Health Department
  • Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department
  • Four Corners Health Department
  • Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department
  • North Central District Health Department
  • Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department
  • Panhandle Public Health District
  • Public Health Solutions
  • Sarpy/Cass Health Department
  • South Heartland District Health Department
  • Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department
  • Three Rivers Public Health Department
  • Two Rivers Public Health Department
  • West Central District Health Department

Schools and facilities that wish to sample their drinking water should contact their health departments first – even if a local health department is not listed above, it may choose to participate at a later date. If a school or facility would like to sample, and its local health department is not participating in the program, it may contact the DHHS Drinking Water Division directly at dhhs.drinkingwater@nebraska.gov.

Childhood lead poisoning is preventable, so identifying sources of exposure is crucial. Childhood exposure to lead may be associated with hearing and speech impairments, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, slowed growth and development, and adverse impacts to the developing nervous system. Children ages 6 and younger are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure.

To ensure schools, child care facilities and parents can make informed decisions about children’s drinking water, a summary of the sampling data will be available on the NDEE/DHHS webpage when the program is complete.

If a school or facility does not qualify for the grant and still wishes to sample for lead, it can request a test kit by calling the Nebraska Environmental Public Health Lab at (402) 471-3935. The cost of a test kit is $19, plus shipping.