The EPA recently unveiled a new plan to improve the safety of drinking water at schools, particularly in small, rural communities.  The announcement came during a hearing in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that was examining reports of widespread water contamination and dangerous levels of lead and other toxics in the drinking water at thousands of U.S. schools.

The hearing followed an investigation by the Associated Press (AP) that found roughly one in five schools with their own wells violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade.  Dozens of contaminants surfaced in drinking water at public and private schools in all 50 states and at school districts in small towns and inner cities alike, according to EPA data analyzed by the AP.

Under federal law, schools with their own wells (that's about 10% of the nation's schools) are required to test their water and report any problems to the state. In turn, the state is supposed to send all violations to the federal government.  Most of the schools with their own wells are located in small, rural communities that often cannot afford a water system overhaul.

Larger, urban schools that get water from local utilities, however, are not required to test for toxics because the EPA regulates their water providers. But that means that the EPA is not monitoring the schools' internal plumbing. Lead, for instance, often concentrates at higher levels in school pipes than in most homes since they contain dozens of soldered joints where the metal can flake off.

EPA officials said their plan is to address underlying problems for entire drinking water systems rather than focusing on one contaminant at a time.  No word yet though on how these problems will be addressed...or who will foot the bill to fix them.

[via Associated Press]