Does your child’s school test for lead? What we found when we asked metro districts

ATLANTA — It’s an issue affecting schools all across the country and here in metro Atlanta -- contaminated water.

Doctors warn even small amounts of lead can cause developmental issues in kids.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi looked at how Georgia schools are tackling the water worries and found one district leading the way.

Currently, neither Georgia nor the federal government has any regulations requiring schools to test for lead in water.

It is up to each district to decide when and how they test the water and what to do when they find lead in it.

Students at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Southeast Atlanta drink freely from the fountains.

But sometimes Atlanta Public Schools will block off fountains with caution tape to protect students from lead contamination.

[HAVE A STORY FOR 2 INVESTIGATES? Submit your tip here]

“We put yellow tape around those, put notes on them to make sure that everyone knew that this water source… is something that you cannot use until we get it fixed,” said Seth Coleman, Atlanta Public Schools director of media relations and social media.

They can’t use them because lead is so dangerous to kids.

“So, any level of lead exposure is too much. There really is no safe level of lead exposure,” said Dr. Samira Brown, with Piedmont Pediatrics.

She said treating children with high levels of lead is common and worrisome, with so much at stake.

“Developmental delays. They can have irritability. They can have trouble sleeping. They can have definitely anemia,” Brown said.

To prevent lead exposure, Atlanta Public Schools tests every single water source at every single school and every single building it uses, every five years.

The district started after witnessing the Flint, Michigan water crisis nearly a decade ago.

During the crisis, thousands of children were exposed to lead from the school drinking water.


“I mean, we didn’t know for a long time that that was going on until we started to see the brown and different stuff happen and kids getting sicker,” said Aireal Sweet, a student in Flint.

“Because of what was going on in Flint, we thought that we need to. If it can happen there, it can happen here,” Coleman said.

Channel 2 Action News teamed up with ABC News and seven TV stations across the nation to request access and information from schools about lead in their water, reaching out to over 130 school districts across 11 states.

Channel 2 Action News contacted 56 districts across North Georgia and received responses from 14 of them.

Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton, Coweta, Greene, Towns and Madison County Schools all test.

Floyd, Pike, Lamar, Upson, and Polk County Schools are about to start testing.

DeKalb said it does not test for lead in water.

Gwinnett and Union Counties do limited testing. Gwinnett is planning to start a new testing program soon.

“Knowing that it’s public water, it is a concern,” said McKenzy Hurt, a mother of a student at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

That kind of concern prompted Atlanta Public Schools to become the first district in Georgia to test every source for lead in the water using three separate independent investigators costing $100,000 each.

APS also came up with new protocols like using filters and flushing the water system before kids come back from break.

But despite those efforts, some water lines still test higher than what the EPA recommends: 15 micrograms per liter or 15 parts per billion.

The latest testing from 2021 found 298 water sources initially failed but passed after following the new protocol for fixes.

“From just turning the water on to letter the water run, to replacing certain aspects of the faucetry in it, to actually fixing pipes,” Coleman said.

Georgia Public Health lists Bibb, Chatham, Clayton, Cobb, Colquitt, DeKalb, Dougherty, Floyd, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Houston, Laurens, Muscogee, Richmond, and Troup Counties as areas of most concern for water worries when it comes to lead poisoning in kids under 6 years old.

A particular focus is on older school buildings dating prior to 1988, which may have 100% lead piping or plumbing.

APS said it is replacing those old pipes as tests come back to make sure the water is safe. Parents are taking notice.

“My son brings his water bottle all the time and is like ‘Mom, can I fill it up?’ and I say Yes son, go on and take it,” Hurt said.

There is not a mandatory testing program in Georgia pushing for testing in schools for lead in water.

But there is a voluntary program called Clean Water for Georgia Kids that helps schools test for and get rid of lead in water.

Gwinnett County Schools is working with them and about to start testing.