The Gov’t Doesn’t Even Know If Child Care Centers Have ‘Safe Drinking Water,’ Report Finds

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The Gov’t Doesn’t Even Know If Child Care Centers Have ‘Safe Drinking Water,’ Report Finds

Gabe Kaminsky on September 7, 2022

A federal agency “does not have assurance” as to whether kids “have access to safe drinking water” in its child care centers, a government watchdog report found.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) provides child care for kids of government workers and its Public Buildings Service (PBS) is responsible for testing water for contaminants in its 92 nationwide facilities. However, since PBS didn’t test in “almost all” the centers after they temporarily closed due to COVID-19, kids and staff there may be drinking water with contaminants, the GSA’s Inspector General said in a Tuesday report.

“While PBS has since tested the water in certain child care centers, this testing was not comprehensive,” said the report. “PBS did not conduct water testing before reopening 71 of the 74 child care centers (96 percent), including in child care centers that previously reported elevated levels of contaminants.”

For instance, GSA reopened a Kansas City, Missouri, federal building with a child care center in August 2020, according to the report. Despite this, PBS did not test for lead and copper in the water until December 2021 — at which time it found “elevated” levels of both and cleaned the system.

Another GSA child care center in Lakewood, Colorado, reopened in May 2020 but did not test for lead and copper until December 2021, the report says. Both contaminants have since been removed from the system.

A directive signed in 2016 holds PBS must test for lead and copper every three years in GSA child care centers but the order does not require PBS to test for legionella bacteria. Stagnant water could have increased levels of lead, copper metals and legionella bacteria, the report says.

Plumbing systems in facilities should also be reviewed for water safety hazards “before reopening after a prolonged period of building inactivity,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are 33 centers that PBS did not test for contaminants in water by June 2022, the report says. It is unclear how many of these facilities have since been tested.

PBS told GSA upon being investigated for its alleged lack of testing that it “is not an operator of a water system for any child care center,” the report says. This statement gives the “misleading impression” that PBS is not responsible for water quality, said the report, citing the fact that the 2016 directive says PBS must “ensure consistent access to safe, quality drinking water for consumption and use by all occupants, contractors, and visitors in GSA-controlled facilities.”

The GSA did not respond to a request for comment nor did a spokeswoman for PBS.

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