clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Transparency is very important’: Tennessee lawmaker wants to expand lead testing in schools and child care centers

A sign between two water fountains that reads: Attention. Do not use water fountain.
Water fountains were among the sources that showed high levels of lead, which can be harmful for a child’s developing body.
Stacey Rupolo/Chalkbeat

As school officials continue to report more water fountains and sinks with high levels of lead across Tennessee, parents and lawmakers say the current law doesn’t go far enough to protect students.

Tennessee Representative London Lamar smiles for a portrait outdoors with her arms crossed.
Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis)
Reginald Jones / Filtered Focus Photography

State Rep. London Lamar, a Democrat from Shelby County, plans to file a bill requiring school leaders to notify parents within 24 hours of test results that show high lead levels, and requiring districts to publicly post all water test results. The bill also would require child care facilities to test for the toxic metal and lower the amount of lead that would be allowed in school water.

“I think transparency is very important,” she said. “We have a right to know what the water sources in our buildings look like so we can make better choices about our children and their education. You want to make sure it’s somewhere that they’re safe.”

Her bill passed in the state House of Representatives earlier this year, but the sudden end to the session because of the pandemic stalled its progress in the state Senate. She plans to reintroduce the bill for the legislative session that begins in January.

The proposal would lower the threshold for high lead levels to 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water (ppb). Under the current law, if a water sample has more than 20 ppb, school officials must shut off the water source. School officials then must report the results to parents at the school within five days and the Tennessee Department of Health within 24 hours.

Lamar said she also plans to advocate that districts receive money to eliminate the toxic metal from water sources, although she doesn’t know yet how much is needed.

The proposed changes are part of a growing concern nationwide about children’s exposure to lead in schools, especially in districts that educate students from families living in poverty and are more likely to have aging infrastructure. More than two dozen states have passed similar lead testing laws in the past five years. Lead in a child’s body can slow brain development, cause inattentiveness, and increase impulsive behavior, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

So far, test results in Tennessee have revealed a quarter of districts have at least one school with high levels of lead in water. That includes test results since November 2019 that Chalkbeat obtained through an open records request to the Tennessee Department of Health. (Scroll down for a searchable table of water test results. You can search previous findings here.)

In the most recent batch of test results from across the state, about three-quarters of the water sources were sinks in classrooms, kitchens, or restrooms, where children likely drank from or staff prepared their food. The remainder were split between water fountains in hallways, near restrooms, or in classrooms; and places children likely did not have access to such as offices, janitor closets, and outdoor hoses, or were not reported.

School officials statewide began testing sinks, water fountains, and other water sources in old buildings for the toxic metal after legislators passed a law in 2018 spurred by the Flint, Michigan, water crisis in 2014.

Lead testing continues throughout the state, but without funding from the state to fix the water sources or carry out tests.

For example, Shelby County Schools, the largest district in the state, spent $100,000 last year to conduct water tests. Most of the district’s 150 buildings are more than 40 years old and already had a $500 million backlog in repair needs. School board members this week said they would urge state lawmakers to make funding available as they plan for ways to fix the water sources they shut off.

Water tests for lead in Tennessee schools

District School Results (parts per billion) Description
District School Results (parts per billion) Description
Achievement School District Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School 20.4 Kitchen sink
Achievement School District Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School 22.4 Kitchen sink
Achievement School District Frayser Achievement Elementary 22.8 Hallway water cooler
Achievement School District Frayser Achievement Elementary 41.2 Hallway water cooler
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 19.9 Unknown
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 21.8 Restroom water cooler
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa High School 24.1 Kitchen tilt skillet
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 24.9 Classroom water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 30.4 Classroom water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa High School 33.2 Hallway water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 33.3 Kitchen sprayer
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa High School 35 Water fountain (unknown location)
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 38.9 Classroom water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 44 Outside water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 47.7 Classroom water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 47.7 Kitchen sprayer
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 49.7 Unknown
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 69.2 Kitchen pot filler
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 72.5 Unknown
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa High School 83.8 Kitchen sink
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa High School 90.3 Kitchen sink
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 107 Classroom water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa High School 122 Unknown
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 249 Cafeteria water cooler
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 249 Restroom water fountain
Alcoa City Schools Alcoa Middle School 479 Cafeteria water cooler
Anderson County Schools Andersonville Elementary 22.1 Kitchen sink
Blount County Schools Lanier Elementary 29.1 Office sink
Blount County Schools Middlesettlements 110 Restroom sink
Bradley County Schools Lake Forest Middle School 16.3 Sink (unknown location)
Clarksville-Montgomery County School System Hazelwood Elementary 22.5 Classroom sink
Cumberland County Schools Glenn Martin Elementary 15.9 Classroom water cooler
Cumberland County Schools Glenn Martin Elementary 17.5 Kitchen pot filler
Cumberland County Schools Glenn Martin Elementary 24.3 Classroom sink
Cumberland County Schools Cumberland County High School 70.9 Classroom sink
DeKalb County School District DeKalb Middle School 30.8 Restroom sink
DeKalb County School District De Kalb County High School 55.2 Kitchen sink
DeKalb County School District DeKalb Middle School 83.7 Kitchen pot filler
DeKalb County School District De Kalb County High School 87.3 Classroom sink
DeKalb County School District De Kalb County High School 426 Kitchen sink
DeKalb County School District De Kalb County High School 840 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 15.2 Restroom sink
Dyer County Schools Newbern Elementary School 15.7 Classroom water fountain
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 16.6 Restroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 18.6 Hallway sink
Dyer County Schools Newbern Elementary School 20 Classroom water fountain
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 20 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 20 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 20 Restroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 20 Restroom sink
Dyer County Schools Newbern Elementary School 20.1 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Newbern Elementary School 23.4 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 25 Sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 26.1 Locker room sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 26.5 Concession stand sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 27.5 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Holice Powell Elementary 29.7 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Holice Powell Elementary 43.2 Classroom sink
Dyer County Schools Northview Middle School 67 Locker room sink
Franklin Special School District Liberty Elementary 16.5 Concession stand sink
Franklin Special School District Johnson Elementary 17 Restroom (unknown source)
Franklin Special School District Liberty Elementary 20.6 Restroom sink
Franklin Special School District Liberty Elementary 21.8 Classroom sink
Franklin Special School District Moore Elementary 40.9 Classroom sink
Franklin Special School District Moore Elementary 56.1 Classroom sink
Franklin Special School District Franklin Elementary 77.3 Kitchen sink
Franklin Special School District Franklin Elementary 79.1 Water Cooler
Franklin Special School District Franklin Elementary 102 Water Cooler
Franklin Special School District Freedom Middle School 117 Classroom water fountain
Germantown Municipal School District Farmington Elementary School 18.4 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 18.5 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 20.2 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 20.4 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 21.5 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 22.1 Restroom (unknown source)
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 23.3 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 23.7 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 23.9 Kitchen pot filler
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 26 Kitchen sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 26.5 Kitchen sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 27 Kitchen pot filler
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 28.1 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 30 Gym water fountain
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 30.2 Classroom water cooler
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 31.2 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 31.2 Classroom water cooler
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 32.6 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 33.3 Hallway water fountain
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 35.7 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 35.9 Kitchen pot filler
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 37.4 Restroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 38.1 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Farmington Elementary School 38.5 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 39.7 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 42.1 Kitchen pot filler
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 48.2 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 49.2 Classroom water fountain
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 52.2 Restroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 61.2 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 62.7 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 63.5 Classroom water fountain
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 68.7 Kitchen sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 70.6 Concession stand sink
Germantown Municipal School District Dogwood Elementary School 74.9 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 82.5 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 88.1 Kitchen pot filler
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 94.9 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Farmington Elementary School 105 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 116 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Farmington Elementary School 152 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 208 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 214 Gym water fountain
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 273 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston Middle School 309 Classroom sink
Germantown Municipal School District Houston High School 431 Classroom sink
Hardeman County Schools Bolivar Middle School 20.8 Unknown
Hardeman County Schools Central High School 31.2 Sink (unknown location)
Hardeman County Schools Middleton Elementary 33.2 Restroom sink
Houston County Schools Houston Co Middle School 20.6 Classroom water cooler
Houston County Schools Erin Elementary 34 Classroom water fountain
Humboldt City Schools East Elementary School 16.7 Classroom sink
Humboldt City Schools East Elementary School 21.7 Classroom sink
Humboldt City Schools East Elementary School 36.6 Restroom sink
Humboldt City Schools East Elementary School 43.4 Kitchen pot filler
Humboldt City Schools East Elementary School 65.1 Classroom sink
Jackson-Madison County Schools Madison Academic Magnet High School 28.8 Kitchen sink
Jackson-Madison County Schools Madison Academic Magnet High School 59.7 Restroom sink
Knox County Schools Karns Elementary 16.6 Office sink
Knox County Schools Dogwood Elementary 18.2 Classroom sink
Knox County Schools East Knox Elementary 20 Water fountain (unknown location)
Knox County Schools Karns Elementary 21.9 Kitchen sink
Knox County Schools Karns Elementary 25.3 Kitchen mop sink
Knox County Schools Mooreland Heights Elementary 34.3 Classroom sink
Knox County Schools Gap Creek Elementary 36.2 Hallway water fountain
Knox County Schools Beaumont Elementary/Magnet 39.7 Classroom (unknown water source)
Knox County Schools Mooreland Heights Elementary 43.1 Classroom sink
Knox County Schools Bonny Kate Elementary 54.8 Unknown
Knox County Schools Gap Creek Elementary 67.2 Kitchen sink
Knox County Schools Fair Garden Family/Community Center 78.2 Classroom water fountain
Knox County Schools East Knox Elementary 94.1 Kitchen sink
Knox County Schools Gap Creek Elementary 134 Hallway water fountain
Knox County Schools Blue Grass Elementary 145 Classroom water fountain
Knox County Schools Beaumont Elementary/Magnet 285 Classroom water fountain
Lawrence County Schools Lawrence Co High School 20.5 Hallway water fountain
Lawrence County Schools David Crockett Elementary 21.3 Classroom sink
Lawrence County Schools David Crockett Elementary 21.6 Kitchen pot filler
Lawrence County Schools Lawrence Co High School 22.5 Classroom sink
Lawrence County Schools Lawrence Co High School 34.1 Sink
Lewis County Schools Lewis County Elementary 16.7 Classroom sink
Loudon County Schools Eaton Elementary 24.9 Kitchen sprayer
Macon County Schools Macon County Junior High School 15.4 Kitchen sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 16.1 Classroom sink
Macon County Schools Central Elementary 16.2 Sink (unknown location)
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 21.8 Restroom water fountain
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 23 Sink
Macon County Schools Lafayette Elementary School 23.8 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 26.5 Kitchen sink
Macon County Schools Fairlane Elementary 28.6 Kitchen sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 34.5 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 34.7 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Macon County Junior High School 35.8 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Fairlane Elementary 48.7 Kitchen sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 51 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 64.5 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 78.1 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Fairlane Elementary 80.7 Kitchen sink
Macon County Schools Macon County High School 102 Restroom sink
Macon County Schools Macon County Junior High School 103 Restroom sink
Millington Municipal School District Millington Central High School 34 Classroom sink
Millington Municipal School District Millington Central High School 35.3 Classroom sink
Newport City School Newport Grammar School 26.7 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 15.3 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 17.3 Sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 18.7 Restroom sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 18.9 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Midtown Educational Center 20.7 Unknown
Roane County Schools Harriman High School 20.8 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Midway Elementary 21.5 Office sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 23.1 Sink (unknown location)
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 27 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Midtown Educational Center 27.6 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Harriman High School 28.6 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 29.2 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 32.4 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 33.7 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 34.2 Mop Sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 35.2 Sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 41.8 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 43.2 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Midtown Educational Center 43.7 Kitchen sink
Roane County Schools Harriman High School 50 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Harriman High School 56 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Harriman High School 57 Classroom water fountain
Roane County Schools Midtown Educational Center 67.4 Unknown
Roane County Schools Midtown Educational Center 82.6 Ice Maker/Machine (unknown location)
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 85.6 Locker room sink
Roane County Schools Harriman High School 125 Classroom sink
Roane County Schools Midtown Educational Center 141 Kitchen sink
Roane County Schools Kingston Elementary 2000 Sink
Robertson County Schools Krisle Elementary 16 Restroom sink
Robertson County Schools Greenbrier High School 27.7 Classroom sink
Sequatchie County Schools Griffith Elementary 20.7 Kitchen sink
Sequatchie County Schools Griffith Elementary 31.1 Classroom sink
Sequatchie County Schools Griffith Elementary 70.8 Kitchen pot filler
Sevier County School System Jones Cove Elementary 17.2 Classroom sink
Sevier County School System New Center Elementary 24.1 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools B. T. Washington High 28 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Berclair Elementary 197 Classroom water fountain
Shelby County Schools Brownsville Road Elementary 20.6 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Central High 23.2 Classroom water fountain
Shelby County Schools Charjean Elementary 59.2 Unknown
Shelby County Schools Chickasaw Middle 199 Unknown
Shelby County Schools Double Tree Elementary 15.3 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Double Tree Elementary 15.7 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Douglass Elementary/Middle 34.6 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Douglass Elementary/Middle 69.1 Water Cooler (unknown location)
Shelby County Schools Douglass Elementary/Middle 81.8 Restroom sink
Shelby County Schools East High 15.6 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools East High 39.6 Kitchen pot filler
Shelby County Schools Egypt Elementary 49.2 Kitchen sink
Shelby County Schools Gardenview Elementary 29.3 Kitchen sink
Shelby County Schools Gardenview Elementary 33.9 Kitchen sink
Shelby County Schools Gardenview Elementary 558 Kitchen sink
Shelby County Schools Gardenview Elementary 1010 Kitchen sink
Shelby County Schools Havenview Middle 26.7 Kitchen pot filler
Shelby County Schools Idlewild Elementary 36.8 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Jackson Elementary 22.6 Sink
Shelby County Schools Jackson Elementary 31.4 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Jackson Elementary 38.7 Restroom
Shelby County Schools Jackson Elementary 42.9 Restroom
Shelby County Schools Keystone Elementary 40.1 Classroom sink
Shelby County Schools Kingsbury Career Technology Center 37.1 Restroom
Shelby County Schools Kingsbury Career Technology Center 45.2 Mop Sink
Shelby County Schools Kingsbury Elementary 18.4 Restroom
Shelby County Schools Macon-Hall Elementary 29.7 Kitchen sink
Shelby County Schools Northeast Prep Academy 36.1 Classroom sink
Sullivan County Schools Central Heights Elementary 17 Sink
Sullivan County Schools Holston Middle School 21.6 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Middle School 15.1 Kitchen pot filler
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 15.2 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 15.3 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Middle School 15.5 Kitchen (unknown source)
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 15.8 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 17.6 Concession stand sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Middle School 18.8 Restroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Elementary 19 Cafeteria water fountain
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 19.2 Concession stand hot water dispenser
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 21 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Drummonds Elementary 21.2 Kitchen pot filler
Tipton County Schools Brighton Middle School 21.3 Restroom sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 21.3 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Elementary 21.7 Water fountain (unknown location)
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 24.8 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 26.6 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 27.3 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 27.5 Office sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 28.4 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Munford Elementary 29.3 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 30 Classroom water fountain
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 30.3 Hallway water fountain
Tipton County Schools Brighton Elementary 32.9 Kitchen steam table
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 33.3 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 33.6 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Middle School 41.3 Kitchen (unknown source)
Tipton County Schools Munford Elementary 43 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 43.2 Classroom water fountain
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 44.9 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 45.9 Cafeteria water fountain
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 47 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Middle School 47.1 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Middle School 48.4 Water Cooler (unknown location)
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 48.7 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 48.8 Hallway water fountain
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 50 Kitchen pot filler
Tipton County Schools Munford High School 54.7 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Elementary 59.5 Water fountain (unknown location)
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 69 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Elementary 71.6 Kitchen pot filler
Tipton County Schools Covington High School 74.3 Office sink
Tipton County Schools Covington Integrated Arts Academy 74.9 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Middle School 81.1 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 95.4 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Drummonds Elementary 96.1 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 134 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Covington Integrated Arts Academy 145 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Elementary 146 Office sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 147 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Crestview Middle School 149 Kitchen pot filler
Tipton County Schools Brighton High School 152 Classroom sink
Tipton County Schools Brighton Elementary 217 Sink
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 21.3 Restroom sink
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 24.1 Classroom sink
Warren County School District Bobby Ray Memorial 24.4 Unknown
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 39.8 Classroom water cooler
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 66.9 Classroom (unknown water source)
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 122 Classroom sink
Warren County School District Bobby Ray Memorial 143 Unknown
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 216 Classroom water fountain
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 225 Classroom water fountain
Warren County School District Bobby Ray Memorial 237 Unknown
Warren County School District Bobby Ray Memorial 1520 Unknown
Warren County School District Hickory Creek School 3950 Classroom sink
Washington County Schools Jonesborough Middle School 16.1 Restroom
Washington County Schools David Crockett High School 17.3 Gym hose bib
Washington County Schools Boones Creek Elementary 22.3 Unknown
Washington County Schools Daniel Boone High School 22.4 Classroom sink
Washington County Schools Daniel Boone High School 23.9 Classroom sink
Washington County Schools Lamar Elementary 25.1 Classroom sink
Washington County Schools Asbury Optional High 25.5 Kitchent sprayer
Washington County Schools Fall Branch Elementary 56 Sink
Washington County Schools Gray Elementary School 60.3 Classroom water fountain
Washington County Schools Boones Creek Elementary 488 Unknown
Wayne County Schools Frank Hughes School 21.4 Classroom water fountain
Nov. 2019 - Nov. 2020 Tennessee Department of Health

Test results from the past year included lead levels that ranged from 15.1 ppb in a kitchen pot filler in Tipton County to 3,950 ppb in a classroom sink in Warren County. The highest levels were rare though. Most lead levels were below 100 ppb, which is still five times the state’s threshold.

Tipton County, near Memphis, had the most water sources with high levels of lead in the past year: 52 water sources in 10 schools, bringing its total to 116 water sources since last year. Other districts are spreading their testing over two years, the minimum set by state law, so their complete results may not be known for awhile.

The latest data from Shelby County Schools added 30 water sources in 19 schools. Each of the schools had previously reported at least one water source containing high levels of lead.

The state law also requires districts to annually test water samples between 15 and 20 ppb until results come back below the threshold. The latest data show 49 water sources officials retested in the past year across 15 schools in 11 districts. More than half were unresolved and still had high levels of lead.

That’s why parents like Heidi Rupke want to see all results — even if the water source didn’t meet the state’s threshold of concern. She stood outside Idlewild Elementary School in Memphis for several mornings to collect signatures on a petition urging the local district to release more data. She said she would rather know all the places her children could be exposed to lead.

“As a parent, if I see an issue, I try to resolve it, not just for the short term but the long term,” she said.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Connect with your community

Find upcoming Tennessee events