California protects kids with lead testing for child care drinking water

SACRAMENTO – California regulators today launched their most health-protective program to test drinking water for lead in licensed child care facilities, issuing new guidelines that also require significant reductions in lead detected.

The guidelines, from the state’s Department of Social Services, include a long-term goal to reduce lead in child care facilities’ drinking water to as close to zero as possible.

“Lead is a neurotoxin that can permanently damage young children’s nervous systems,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate of government affairs in California. “Even small amounts of lead can lower a child’s intelligence, cause behavior and learning problems, slow growth and harm hearing. Lead doesn’t belong in the drinking water children use in child care centers, or anywhere.” 

Children absorb half the lead they ingest, and malnourished children absorb it faster.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as one-fifth of a child’s exposure to lead comes from drinking water. The EPA also estimates that up to 60 percent of infants’ lead exposure can come from the water used to mix formula.

California’s new child care guidelines are stricter than its school and residential drinking water programs, which test limited numbers of taps and allow as much as 15 parts per billion, or ppb, lead in water. The new effort requires testing every outlet of potable water in child care facilities, ordering facilities to improve water if more than 5 ppb lead is found.

More than 700,000 children in California are enrolled in state-licensed child care centers, which are mostly housed in private buildings.

Since 2017, state law has required very limited lead testing of water in public schools and school-based child care operations, but until now, child care centers operating outside of school grounds faced no similar requirement.

In 2018, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) authored AB 2370, a measure to require all licensed child care centers to test their drinking water for lead by 2023 and then every five years. That bill was enacted, and the guidelines announced today are a result of a multiyear effort to implement it.  

“The Department of Social Services' implementation of AB 2370, through these new directives, will help keep our youngest children safe by ensuring they are not ingesting lead through the water they drink while at child care centers,” said Holden.

“We know that even minute amounts of lead in the bodies of very young children cause irreversible harm to their central nervous system. I look forward to working on other efforts to keep our children and communities healthy,” he said.

In addition to enacting AB 2370, California also approved a spending bill of $5 million in state funds, which have now been combined with a $6 million federal grant, to pay for the testing and improvements to the drinking water in child care centers.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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