A new state law will require about 5,800 Colorado elementary schools and child care centers to test their drinking water for lead and install filters or do repairs if they find elevated levels. 

Schools and child care facilities will have until May 31 to test their water and will have to make fixes if lead levels are 5 parts per billion or higher. That threshold is the same as the limit set by the federal government for bottled water but lower than what most Colorado school districts previously used. 

The law, which comes with $21 million for testing and repairs, represents the first time Colorado has established regulations governing lead levels in school and child care drinking water. It comes as a growing number of states have passed laws to address childhood lead exposure following the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Lead is a harmful neurotoxin that can cause learning disabilities and behavior problems, with even low levels of exposure impacting a child’s IQ. Lead levels in American children have decreased dramatically since the 1970s, but studies show many children still have detectable levels. 

A 2021 study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics found that 72% of Colorado children under 6 who were tested had detectable levels of lead in their blood — though many young children in the state are never tested at all

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Ann Schimke

Senior reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado. Email: aschimke@chalkbeat.org Twitter: @annschimke