EdPolicyWorks Speaker Series: Scott Latham

Lead in New York school drinking water across urban and rural contexts

  • - EDT
  • Holloway Hall (Bavaro Hall 116)

This talk will be a hybrid of two research projects described below 


Following the Flint Water Crisis, many states passed legislation requiring schools to measure and remediate lead in school drinking water. In this study, we present new evidence on the level and distribution of lead in school drinking water by examining the case of New York City, which tested water from every public school fixture in the 2016-17 school year, remediated fixtures that showed elevated levels of lead above 15 ppb, and retested a sample of fixtures in 2018–19. Prior to remediation, 8% of fixtures showed elevated levels of lead; after remediation, 5% of fixtures did. In both pre- and post-remediation periods, Black children attended schools with a higher proportion of elevated fixtures than White, Asian, and Hispanic children. We observe post-remediation lead exposure reductions that were largest for Black children, though racial disparities in exposure remained. Together, our results show that New York City's remediation efforts significantly reduced lead in its schools' drinking water in a short period of time, providing evidence of the promise of such efforts. However, the continued presence of lead in school drinking water and persistent racial disparities in exposure demonstrate the ongoing challenges to eradicating lead exposure in schools. 

Elevated water lead levels in schools using water from on-site wells (open access) 



Only 8% of US public schools operate their own community water systems, and thus are subject to the federal Lead and Copper Rule's regulation of water lead levels (WLLs). To date, the absence of parallel water testing data for all other schools has prevented the comparison of WLLs with schools that do not face federal regulation. This study compiled and analyzed newly available school-level WLL data that included water source (on-site well water or public utility) and pipe material data for public schools in New York State located outside of New York City. Despite direct federal regulation, schools that used water from on-site wells had a substantially higher percentage of water fixtures with elevated WLLs. Schools that used both on-site well water and iron pipes in their water distribution system had the highest percentage of elevated fixtures. Variation in water treatment practices was identified as a potential contributing mechanism, as schools that used on-site well water were less likely to implement corrosion control. The study concluded that information about water source and premise plumbing material may be useful to policymakers targeting schools for testing and remediation. 


Scott Latham is an associate research scholar in the Education Research Section. Scott’s research has focused on issues of access and quality in early childhood education.  Scott is working with Jennifer Jennings on projects related to NYC’s recently expanded universal pre-k program as well as lead in school and community water in New York and New Jersey. He specializes in data analysis and visualization. Prior to coming to Princeton, Scott completed his Ph.D. in Education Policy at the University of Virginia, and spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher in Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.

Event Information

Event Sponsor

  • EdPolicyWorks
  • Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Fellowship Program