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What if My Child Was Exposed to Lead at School or Daycare?

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
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What Are the Risks to Kids of Lead in Drinking Water?

Kids spend a lot of time at school and daycare. If there is lead in the drinking water there, it can contribute to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause serious, long-lasting effects on learning and behavior.

If your child’s school or daycare reported lead in their drinking water, here are some things to consider that can help you decide what to do.

How Old Is Your Child?

Lead is toxic to everyone, but children younger than 6 years old are at greatest risk for problems from it. Their bodies and brains absorb lead more easily than those of older kids and adults.

Does Your Child Drink the Water at School/Daycare?

Think about how much water your child may drink at school or daycare. Does your child drink from the school water fountain? Does your daycare mix your baby’s formula with tap water? If your older child is just taking a few sips of water from the water fountain, it’s not likely to increase their lead level. But if your baby is drinking several bottles a day mixed with tap water, it could cause lead poisoning.

Note: Washing hands with tap water from the faucet will not lead to lead poisoning.

Could Your Child Have Other Exposures to Lead?

Your child may have other possible exposures to lead if they:

  • live in a house built before 1978 (when lead paint was banned), especially if there is peeling or cracking paint
  • have pica (eating dirt or paint chips)
  • are around a parent who is exposed to lead at work (for example, through welding, auto repair, or construction) or through a hobby (like stained glass, home remodeling, or lead soldering)

Take steps to make sure your child is not being exposed to lead at home. The EPA's website has information on ways to do this.

Does Your Child Have Symptoms of Lead Exposure?

Lead poisoning often causes no symptoms in children. But even low-level lead exposure can lead to learning and behavior problems, like trouble paying attention. Symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired or irritable
  • poor growth
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • stomach pain
  • joint pain and muscle weakness
  • headaches

Rarely, very high lead levels can cause confusion, seizures, coma, and death.

What Should I Do if Lead Is Reported in the Drinking Water?

Talk to your health care provider right away if you find out there is lead in the drinking water at your child’s school or daycare. They can help you decide if your child should get a simple blood test to check for lead. Children sometimes get this test at their 1- and 2-year regular checkups. So your child may have a recent lead blood test.

Get your home water (including well water) tested. Call your local health department or the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 for information on testing.

If possible, when your child goes to school or daycare:

  • Have them bring drinking water from home that’s certified as lead-free.
  • Have them drink only bottled water. Be sure to ask your dentist if your child needs a fluoride supplement.
  • Tell them to avoid drinking from the water fountains and sinks. It’s safe to wash their hands in the water.
  • Have caregivers mix formula with bottled water. Or send the formula already mixed at home with water that’s certified as lead-free.

Follow any recommendations from your school, daycare, or health officials about getting your child’s lead level checked. Encourage school officials to get rid of the lead in the drinking water. You may also want to ask that they provide certified lead-free bottled water and give you results from follow-up testing.

Where Can I Learn More About Lead Poisoning?

If you have questions about lead poisoning, talk to your doctor. You also can find more information online from:

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: January 2023