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Helping Illinois Child Care Centers Reduce Exposure To Lead in Drinking Water

By mandating water testing at child care centers, our state’s leading the way in protecting those most vulnerable to lead, the very young.

child care facilities

Illinois requires testing at child care facilities to reduce the risks of lead exposure through drinking water

This blog is part of a series exploring solutions to the complicated issue of lead in drinking water. MPC staff have invited select guest authors to contribute. The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely of the guest author.

I’m happy to say that Illinois is emerging as a leader in combating the risks of lead exposure by requiring water testing at child care facilities, which have been a critical gap in lead exposure prevention efforts.

Recent legislation in Illinois addresses the population of residents who are most at risk of the damaging effects of lead poisoning—children under the age of six. Until now, most child care facilities were not required to test their drinking water for lead.

In Illinois, all licensed day care homes, day care centers, and group day care homes serving children under the age of six and built on or before January 1, 2000, must test their water for lead.

Why test for lead at child care centers?

We know that children spend a lot of time at child care facilities and likely drink tap water and eat food prepared with water in these homes or buildings.

While lead exposure has health implications for all people, the effects are especially concerning among infants and children under the age of six. Children’s developing bodies absorb more of the lead they are exposed to than their adult counterparts. Further, exposure—even at low levels—can damage children’s developing brains and nervous systems, contributing to lower IQ, hearing loss, and learning and behavior problems, in and out of the classroom.

We also know that the only way to confirm that a facility’s drinking water contains lead is to test it.

Assistance for home-based child care centers

Ensuring that children have safe drinking water is a focus for Elevate Energy, a nonprofit organization implementing programs that reduce costs, protect people and the environment, and ensure the benefits of clean and efficient energy use reach those who need them most. Elevate Energy runs several established programs but has expanded into another area important to families’ quality of life: water safety and affordability. Our water safety work focuses on lead in drinking water at child care facilities—particularly those in homes—where efforts can help the most children.

I’m excited to introduce our new Lead in Water Resource Program, which helps home-based providers in Chicago address lead in drinking water through financial assistance and short- and long-term solutions.

The program provides reimbursement of up to $150 for testing costs. It also provides free water pitchers and faucet-mounted filters, both certified to reduce lead in drinking water.

If providers find lead at any drinking or cooking water source at 2.01 parts per billion or above, they will need to develop a mitigation plan and ensure children are provided with a safe drinking water supply until permanent mitigation actions can be developed. Providers can use the water pitchers and sink mount filters as a short-term solution for addressing lead in drinking water.

A focus on water

Elevate Energy is no stranger to water safety and affordability. We’ve conducted dozens of lead in water workshops to teach child care providers about new licensing rules, the health impacts of lead exposure, how to test their water for lead, and how to develop a mitigation plan. Please get in touch with me at to learn more about these workshops.

We also partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on a pilot project to test and remove sources of lead at four nonprofit child care facilities in Chicago. The pilot helped address lead in drinking water for nearly 600 children at critical child care facilities in our state. The new Lead in Water Resource Program builds on our experience from this pilot project.

Additionally, Elevate Energy, with Illinois Action for Children and EDF, developed a Lead in Water Resource Center for all providers in the state.

A challenging but critical problem to solve

While compliance with the Illinois legislation will require a reasonable effort, the effort is critical to protect children, one of our most vulnerable populations.

I hope other child care facilities will learn about the importance of testing their water for lead and that there are actions they can take to reduce lead levels. Our Lead in Water Resources program is a great first step.

Education, support, and funding is necessary, as is collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including child care facility operators, state agencies and health departments, water utilities, local plumbing contractors, and others. Together, we can help Illinois continue to serve as a model for other states in protecting children from the impacts of lead exposure.

For more information, please see the following resources:

Caroline Pakenham is the Water Program Manager at Elevate Energy. She provides leadership for Elevate Energy’s emerging presence in the water sector, including piloting services for detecting and reducing lead in drinking water and conducting research on the energy intensity of water, water efficiency opportunities and barriers, and issues of water affordability. Caroline has nearly a decade of experience working on water and energy programs in the nonprofit field.