The National Sea Grant Law Center


  • Lead in Water Series: The SipSafe Program

  • April 22nd, 2021 — by Taylor Harris — Category: Water Quality

  • In the Meet the Team installment of this Lead in Water Series, I told you the embarrassing story of how six-year-old me resolved to protect herself from lead poisoning—which mostly involved being veryyyy suspicious of #2 pencils. What six-year-old me did not know, among other things (like pencils aren’t made from lead), is that there are regulatory agencies in the U.S. that ensure limited contact with lead by implementing laws like the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Lead and Copper Rule. But it was probably for the better that I didn’t discover until recently that these laws regulating the use of and testing for lead did not apply to schools. This is especially true considering how much time I spent at school watching out for pencils and anything that might resemble paint dust. 

    Children are the only part of the population required to be in schools by law, but they are also the most vulnerable to lead exposure due to higher absorption rates than adults. So lack of testing in schools has long been a hot topic in the conversation around childhood lead exposure. Furthering this apprehension is the fact that exposure to lead before certain bodily systems are fully developed can affect a child for the rest of their life. The CDC lists side effects of lead exposure as including lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention, and underperformance in school. And exposure before the full development of bodily systems, like the central nervous system, might permanently prevent normal physical development in a child. 

    The only way to know whether any one location is, or is not, a source of lead exposure is to test it. In 2017, Congress began addressing testing gaps in schools when they passed the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation (WIIN) Act. This legislation provided funds to states to increase voluntary testing in schools and childcare facilities, and to further protect American children from lead exposure. Increased testing allows us to know the status of taps in schools, which is imperative to protecting young children from lead exposures because of how much time an overwhelming majority of children will spend at school while their bodies are still developing.

    WIIN grant funds in Mississippi are administered by Mississippi State University Extension Service through its SipSafe program. The UM Lead in Drinking Water Project is a partner in this effort and handles recruitment and sampling for schools and childcare facilities in the Mississippi Delta. On our end, SipSafe involves lots of outreach to provide each facility with an invitation to be a part of our program. Lead poisoning is 100% preventable, but communities can’t benefit from resources that they don’t know are available to them; therefore, outreach and building community partnerships are paramount in our effort to help eliminate childhood lead exposure in the Mississippi Delta.

    We also host orientation calls where we share information about the program, the risk of lead, and our sampling procedures. And when the sampling day arrives, a UM Lead Project team member goes to the facility to collect samples from all water fixtures where children drink from or have access to, or where food is prepared. We make sure to sample each fixture individually, so that results give a clear and accurate picture of where lead may be in the facility. 

    Running a facility or school where small children are present often comes with a long list of responsibilities. And testing water for lead usually requires extra time, extra funds to send samples to a lab for analysis, and depending on the method, an expertise that isn’t usually required in the classroom. With the SipSafe program, we aim to eliminate as many obstacles to lead in water testing as possible by providing testing at no cost, education and training for staff and parents, as well as low-cost methods of reducing lead exposure should any exposure sources be identified. WIIN grant funds have helped us to be able to communicate lead risks and bridge gaps in access to testing and, as a result, the facilities we serve can breathe easier equipped with the knowledge of the status of their taps.

    The SipSafe program is an active effort to continue to support Mississippi’s children and protect them from possible lead exposure. If you know of or work in a facility that serves children under the age of 6 years and you would like to have your water tested for lead free of charge, please reach out to We would be happy to assist you!

    This blog post is the final part in a 5-part series exploring the work of the UM Lead in Drinking Water Project Team.

  • Taylor Harris
    North Mississippi VISTA Member with UM Lead in Drinking Water Project

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