Healthy Schools - Drinking Water

Drinking Water Fountains

Why is clean drinking water important to student health?

Drinking enough water every day is good for overall health. As plain drinking water has zero calories, it can help with managing body weight and reducing caloric intake when substituted for drinks with calories, like sugar-sweetened beverages.  Schools are in a unique position to promote lifelong healthy dietary behaviors.  The Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that plain drinking water be available throughout the school day.

Providing access to drinking water helps to increase students’ overall water consumption, maintain hydration, and reduce energy intake if substituted for sugar-sweetened beverages.  Adequate hydration also may improve cognitive function in children and adolescents, helping them to perform better in school.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to make free water available to students during meal times where they are served.  The standards also require schools in the School Breakfast Program to make drinking water available when breakfast is served in the cafeteria.

Schools should use a variety of strategies to:

  • Ensure that water fountains are clean and properly maintained,
  • Provide access to water fountains, dispensers, and hydration stations throughout the school, and
  • Allow students to have water bottles in class or to go to the water fountain if they need to drink water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has standards and regulations to assure public water is clean and safe.  In rare cases when tap water may not be safe to drink, schools should provide drinking water to students in other ways, including installing filtration systems or purchasing drinking water.


What does Tennessee law require?

Testing for Lead in Public Schools' Drinking Water

In May 2018, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law ( ) requiring school districts to implement policies to test for lead in drinking water sources in schools.

Key points from the law are:

  • The legislation takes effect January 1, 2019.
  • Each local board of education is to develop a policy to implement testing of drinking water in their schools.
  • Testing is to occur in schools constructed prior to January 1, 1998.
  • If results are equal to or greater than 20 parts per billion (ppb), the school shall conduct testing on an annual basis until retesting confirms the level is less than 20 ppb.
  • If results are equal to or greater than 20 ppb , in addition to removing the drinking water source from service until retesting confirms results less than 20 ppb, the school is to notify the following within 24 hours:

o   the Commissioner of Environment and Conservation,
o   the Commissioner of Health,
o   the county department of health,
o   the local governing body, and
o   the Department of Education.

  • If results are equal to or greater than 20 ppb, the school must notify parents and guardians of students enrolled at the school in accordance with a notification policy developed by the local board of education within 5 business days of the test result.
  • If results are equal to or greater than 20 ppb, retesting of the lead level of the drinking water source must occur within 90 days of any corrective action.

For additional information on Tennessee requirements or to submit your results, use this link:

Why is it important to test water for lead?

  • Lead is a toxic metal that is especially harmful to children.  More information about the health effects of lead can be found at
  • Testing of lead in drinking water helps evaluate plumbing systems and materials so that targeted remediation efforts can be taken.
  • It is a key step in understanding the problem, if there is one, designing an appropriate response, and reducing children’s exposure to lead.

What are the sources of lead in school and child care drinking water?

  • Lead can enter your school's drinking water as it travels through lead connecting service lines and your school's internal plumbing and fixtures, especially those that were installed prior to 1988 (the effective date of the “lead free” act).
  • Faucets that provide water used for consumption including drinking, cooking lunch, and preparing juice and infant formula may contain lead.
  • Lead is less likey to be in larger service lines typically used in larger buildings; however, many child care facilities reside in small buildings and are at a higher likelihood of being served by lead lines.

What are EPA's 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water?

In October 2018, EPA released a revised version of its guidance manual and toolkit with recommendations on how to address lead in drinking water in schools and child care facilities; these recommendations are not requirements.  These recommendations are intended to serve as a resource to help schools and child care facilities implement a voluntary program for reducing lead in drinking water.  The approach is focused on three key steps:

  • TRAINING school and child care officials to raise awareness of the 3Ts program and summarize the potential causes and health effects of lead in drinking water.
  • TESTING drinking water in schools and child care facilities to identify potential lead problems.
  • TAKING ACTION to reduce lead in drinking water.

The manual provides guidance on developing a communications plan, learning about lead in drinking water, a checklist for developing a 3Ts program, developing a sampling plan, and much more.

In the toolkit you will find new brochures that summarize program highlights and the 3Ts.  There are three factsheets about the 3Ts for Child Care Facilities, Tribal Schools and Public Water Utilities.  For more information on reducing lead in drinking water in schools and to download a copy of the guidance manual and toolkit, visit the EPA webpage (

EPA's 7 modules about drinking water image

Additional resources

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Drinking Water Program

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Healthy Water
Water Access
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

National Association of State Boards of Education
How States Are Handling Lead in School Drinking Water

Environmental Protection Agency
Drinking Water Activities for Students and Teachers