There's lead in California's tap water. What you need to know

At the Video Music Awards in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, five protestors who were demanding clean water got arrested. Newark residents are drinking bottled water because the tap water contains high levels of lead. 

It's a problem in California too. The state passed a law a few years ago that required public schools built before 2010 to test for lead in their drinking fountains before July 2019. Nearly 80% of schools have reported some testing. Of those, one in five school sites found lead levels of more than five parts per billion (ppb).

But there's no safe level of lead, and it impairs children's cognitive abilities, says Emily Rusch, executive director at The California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG). Her organization has given California a C+ grade for its efforts to address lead contamination in water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that drinking water should not exceed lead concentrations of more than one ppb.

Rusch points out that in April, L.A. Unified School District (the second largest district in the nation) decided to test all of its water fountains, and committed to spending $15 million to remediate lead wherever it was found.  

To see if your child's school is affected, CalPIRG has this map.

In the home, Rusch suggests getting water fixtures tested for lead, especially if fixtures were installed before 2010. It'd also be wise to proactively install a filter on the faucet, or use a transportable filter that's certified for lead removal. 

Certified filters can be up to $100-150, Rusch says. "But we are talking about our health. And so we urge every family to do what they can."

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir



  • Emily Rusch - The California Public Interest Research Group