Special Report: How safe is the water your children are drinking in school?

Special Report: How safe is the water your children are drinking in school?

SOUTHEAST WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Detroit Public Schools shut off water to all of its schools after the district said that elevated levels of lead were found in some of its buildings.

State lawmakers are working to fix the problem locally.

There is no state or federal law requiring water testing in schools or childcare facilities so it's really up to them to test and report it.

Democratic State Senator Chris Larson has co-sponsored several bills to address the lead problem.

"The problem is we don't know the scope of how many schools need it because we don't know that scope, we don't know that price tag. We spent a year trying to find out how much it would cost to fix every school, every home, and figure out a problem that can do that and we could not get those numbers," said Senator Chris Larson.

According to the Government Accountability Office, 57% of schools across the country did not test for lead or were unsure if they did. Tests are mandatory in seven states but not in Wisconsin.

"There are a lot of schools who are not doing this testing specifically private schools are not required to do them. It makes us realize this is a huge health, not just a problem but an epidemic. If we are not addressing this it's going to have a societal impact."

CBS 58 News reached out to more than two dozen districts around the state to see which ones were voluntarily testing. Six of them said they have done some sort of testing in the last two years including Milwaukee Public Schools, Green Bay, Arrowhead Union High School, Menomonee Falls, Janesville, and Racine Districts. Janesville, Menomonee Falls, and Milwaukee all took corrective action when elevated levels of lead were found. 

An MPS Spokesperson issued the following statement, "We decommissioned any water fountains that tested above the EPA standard of 15 ppb or more. Those fountains were replaced and only brought back online when tested again." 

People in the community seem to be split on the issue.

"It's a little shocking to me but understanding that these buildings are pretty old."

"We drank out of the bubblers on a regular basis without having any issues so sometimes think we are overly concerned about things that are not necessarily an issue but maybe we should do some testing. Spot testing to see how much of an issue it is."

Larson says more needs to be done in Madison. Recently, lawmakers passed Act 137 which provides some funds for people to replace lead pipes but he is hoping to take another step next session.

"Another common sense one, if we can't get anything else done, is to mandate that everybody, any business, charter schools anyone that has more than ten kids that they have to test and report those tests publicly," said Senator Chris Larson.

Below are the questions CBS 58 asked of the school districts. 

1) Does your district test the water that comes out of school fountains?

2) If so, when was the last time?

3) If so, what did those results find?

4) If you are not testing, has the issue been discussed recently by district officials or the board of education?

5) Has any work been done in recent history (say the last 5 years) to upgrade or change the drinking water system in the school district?

To see the responses from the districts, see below.


  • Yes, The School District does and the City of Wauwatosa does.
  • 2017 the Wauwatosa School District tested every building for lead and copper. The City of Wauwatosa checks periodically every 3 months.
  • We do not have any lead, copper or bacterial concerns. If the City conducts a test they let us know immediately of any concerns.
  • N/A. The Wauwatosa School District and the District officials have decided to take a very proactive approach on the District's drinking water.
  • We have and continue to add bottle fillers at every school which also includes a filter. The filter is only another precautionary item for our drinking fountains.

Beaver Dam:

1. Yes, we conduct random voluntary testing

2. August of 2018

3. Safe (test results from the WI State Lab of Hygiene)

4. N/A

5. Upgraded water fountains and drilled a new well at one of our country elementary schools.


1. Yes.

2. We tested all the fountains in early 2017. We now (re)test 10% of all fountains each summer.

3. From the 2017 results...

Of the 1,337 samples analyzed, 93% tested below the national standard of 15 parts per billion for lead. Seven percent, or 97 samples, tested above those levels. Those fixtures were turned off and then replaced or repaired.

4. We have tested recently and have a plan to continue to test.

5. Many new fixtures installed. Some piping was replaced as well. This was all part of the 2017 testing project.

Lake Geneva Schools:

1. Yes

2. 2017

3. Results at all schools found no areas of concern

4. n/a

5. Yes, starting in 2015 we began replacing our drinking fountains in all 5 of our schools.


We have tested all of our schools the last two years and have found no issues. He also reviews our water department's report annually. We have all new water mains and 80% new fixtures in our buildings over the past five years.

Whitefish Bay:

None of the WFB public watermains are made of lead.

Village records indicate that there are no lead water services serving any of the Whitefish Bay Public School System schools.

In 2011, as part of the Referendum, The School District had most galvanized water supply lines either removed or abandoned, and ran copper supply lines.

Information from North Shore Water Commission:

To comply with the Revised Total Coliform Rule (Revised TCR), the Village of Whitefish Bay needs to have a minimum of 15 samples per month tested in their distribution system. As part of a long-standing arrangement, the North Shore Water Commission collects, analyzes, and reports that information to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR).

We visit the following locations in Whitefish Bay are tested on a regular basis:

Whitefish Bay High School
Cumberland School
Richards School
Olson Orthodontist Office
United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay
Whitefish Bay Village Hall

We routinely visit these sites 3 times in a month. For this monitoring, we test the chlorine residual and collect a sample for bacteriological analysis. The bacteria tested are Total Coliform and E. Coli; lab results are transmitted directly to the WDNR.

The Village of Whitefish Bay is in compliance with the Revised TCR all other required monitoring. So is the North Shore Water Commission.

The 2017 Annual Water Quality Report is available on website:


At this point we do not have plans to do additional testing beyond the testing that is being done by the North Shore Water Commission.

Share this article: