Apr 26, 2021

North Carolina Discovers Unsafe Lead Levels in Childcare Centers

According to the data, approximately one in 10 licensed childcare centers in North Carolina have tested above the state’s threshold for lead.


The North Carolina Commission for Public Health approved a rule in 2019 requiring licensed childcare centers to have all of their tap water tested for lead, according to North Carolina Health News.

The rule requires the centers to test all of their taps for lead every three years and to take remedial action when levels are found at or above 15 parts per billion (ppb).

RTI International and the North Carolina Division of Public Health have tested 2,129 of the state’s 4,409 licensed centers since July 2020. Of the samples tested, 8.5% were found to have lead levels at or above the state’s 15 ppb lead threshold in at least one of their tap water sources, according to Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, senior environmental health scientist and chemical risk assessment specialist with RTI, reported North Carolina Health News.

According to the data, an estimated 20,000 children have potentially been exposed to high levels of lead at their childcare centers, stated Redmon, reported North Carolina Health News. Overall, of the more than 13,000 tap samples taken so far, only 2.1% have come back with lead concentrations of 15 ppb. 

An additional 4% of the centers tested had a lead concentration of 10 ppb or more and the centers have until Sept. 30 to get their tap water tested.

“We have a lot of variability in lead levels among taps within the same building,” Redmon said, reported North Carolina Health News. “So oftentimes we find that a center will have one elevated tap, and there are more centers, about four times more centers, they’re having one elevated tap compared to the sample counts. We very rarely are finding centers that have like three, four or five elevated taps.”

The testing is being done through Clean Water for Carolina Kids and the testing is being funded through an EPA grant.

The state requires centers that test at or above the 15 ppb hazard level to inform parents and staff and shut off access to those taps immediately, with five days to remediate the excessive lead levels, reported North Carolina Health News.

RTI created an Internet mapping site where parents can check the lead levels at the centers their children attend. The site can also be used by center administrators to update the risk mitigation their centers have taken.