School or College:
My research focuses on the extent of and the factors behind lead and copper contamination in schools in Massachusetts. Since 2016 there has been a continued lead and copper monitoring program in which schools, either independently or with assistance from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), test faucets and drinking water fixtures for lead and copper levels.
Water lead levels are particularly important due to the negative health impacts of elevated blood lead levels (EBLLS), which results from ingesting lead through sources like air or water. EBLLs have been shown to impair growth and development, particularly in children. Since water is a route of exposure for lead contamination it is important to monitor and understand the potential contamination from drinking water in schools and childcares, where children may be receiving much of their water. From a public safety perspective, it is important to look at each individual school and address the elevated levels of contaminants, which was done during the initial monitoring. However, using data like building ages, water quality parameters, water treatment techniques, and school demographics I have analyzed some of the associations between the characteristics of a school and their risk for elevated lead levels. Schools with older infrastructure or who receive water which is more acidic are likely at greater risk for elevated lead levels due to the conditions which cause lead leaching. Additionally, there may be demographic groups which are more at risk to attend schools with higher lead levels; this does not cause elevated lead levels but is a condition of the inequities in water quality or infrastructure condition between different communities. This research is important not only for these individual schools but also has broader implications. It can serve as a guide for identifying schools which may be at risk and should be monitored and steps that can be taken to reduce risk. Lead and copper sampling is not currently required in schools nationwide; however, legislation effective in 2024 will begin to require monitoring every 5 years. This program and analysis can serve as a future guide as more monitoring occurs and data is made available.