(03/25/21) BATON ROUGE, La. — Many schools and child care centers in Louisiana were closed for months during the earlier stages of the pandemic. Some schools that have reopened are restricting students’ use of water fountains because of COVID-19 precautions.
“In addition to following CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s also important to be aware of how to ensure safe drinking water in long vacant facilities,” advised Susan Babineaux, LSU AgCenter healthy homes educator. Shuttered child care centers or schools not fully using their plumbing could have stagnant water, which could become unsafe for drinking, cooking or other purposes.
The Environmental Protection Agency warns that stagnant water in plumbing could support growth of bacteria and have hazardous levels of metals, such as lead and copper, that leach from the plumbing. The longer the water has been sitting in pipes, the more lead and other contaminants it may contain.
Babineaux said the most common sources of lead in drinking water are faucets, fixtures and lead pipes. There is no safe blood lead level in children, and even tiny amounts can damage a young child’s developing brain, resulting in lifelong learning and behavior problems, among other health effects.
“Fortunately, there are simple solutions to ensure safe and healthy drinking water when reopening schools and child care centers, so we are helping to spread awareness of how to do that,” said Alpa Patel, also an LSU AgCenter educator. “An example that also applies to older homes is to routinely flush water outlets that are used for drinking and food preparation.”
As healthy homes educators, Babineaux and Patel teach families and other educators practical ways to decrease lead exposure and reduce lead and other health hazards in the home and other environments.
Flushing involves opening valves and letting faucets run long enough to remove long standing water in the interior pipes and outlets.
“It is important for facilities to know their plumbing configuration because effective flushing time varies,” Patel said.
If there is a known or suspected source of lead, it is helpful to flush before the first use of drinking water every morning. If a plumbing system is lead-free, flushing is needed when the water has been stagnant for more than a few days.
The LSU AgCenter has teamed with the Louisiana Department of Health and EPA to help Louisiana child care centers and schools ensure safe drinking water through a voluntary lead in drinking water testing and education program. EPA fact sheets with additional recommendations for reopening facilities are being distributed to Louisiana elementary schools and child care centers.
Parents can learn more about how to protect their children from lead poisoning and ways to ensure a healthy home as well as other home improvement topics by exploring the LaHouse Resource Center website, www.lsuagcenter.com/LaHouse. LaHouse is an educational program of the LSU AgCenter Extension Service and a high-performance demonstration house on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge that exhibits resilient, energy efficient and healthy home features and benefits. It is now open for touring by appointment.