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1 in 4 California child care centers has alarming levels of lead in water, research shows

New research reveals that nearly 1,700 licensed child care centers across the state, roughly 1 in 4, have exceeded the amount of allowable lead in drinking water given to preschool-age children and infants. This means that babies and toddlers may have been drinking high levels of water for decades, the report suggests. 

The tests were conducted to comply with Assembly Bill 2370, authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, and sponsored by the Environmental Working Group. This law requires licensed child care centers to test their tap water for lead contamination. 

It has long been known that many American public schools don’t have safe water for students to drink. Despite a flurry of testing, policy changes and the movement to replace water infrastructure in recent years, many children are still exposed to lead at school, according to the report, “Get the Lead Out.”

Even a little lead exposure, such as from water fountains, can harm health, impacting the brain and nervous system. Studies connect elevated lead levels to lower IQ and decreased focus as well as violent crime and delinquency. This threat is affecting children just as they struggle to recover from the pandemic.

“Despite all the work we’ve done to try to protect kids from the debilitating impacts of lead exposure through their drinking water and elsewhere, test results released today show we have failed to prevent harm to the most vulnerable Californians,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “Parents and decisionmakers alike need to understand that the water our children drink in California can contain high levels of lead. Young people in our state are being put in dire risk.”

The highest levels of lead were detected at the La Petite Academy, in San Diego, according to the report. These levels are comparable to some of the highest amounts of lead detected in Flint, Michigan.