In a virtual ceremony today, the Environment and Natural Resources Program at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center presented its coveted biennial Roy Award for Environmental Partnership to Clean Water for Carolina Kids, a public-private partnership in North Carolina that protects children from exposure to lead from drinking water at childcare centers and schools. The ceremony was followed by a panel discussion, “Coalitions for Environmental Health and Justice: Lessons from the 2020 Roy Award.” 

Clean Water for Carolina Kids, a collaboration of RTI International, NC Child, the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and the North Carolina Division of Public Health, was selected for its development and implementation of a novel and creative approach that eliminates lead from childcare center and elementary school drinking fountains and faucets before it reaches children. Standard public health practice is to test and treat children after exposure rather than proactively rooting out lead poisoning sources. The North Carolina effort uses a citizen-science approach that includes the use of mail-out test kits, an online enrollment and reporting portal, and most importantly, training and communication support.

In fall 2019, a new North Carolina rule was adopted that requires all licensed childcare centers to test for and remove lead in water used for drinking or food preparation. It is the first-of-its-kind lead in water testing program nationally to make large scale, yet scientifically robust testing feasible while empowering childcare centers and schools to participate as citizen scientists.

“This partnership will protect hundreds of thousands of children in North Carolina while providing a replicable model for other states and regions – and is a shining example of how science-driven, highly-local approaches can effectively address environmental and public health challenges,” said Henry Lee, Director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program that coordinates the award.

Following the virtual ceremony, a panel of scientists, advocates, and public health professionals discussed the challenges of providing clean drinking water nationwide and how to ensure that science and justice are at the center of work to protect children’s health.

Additional information is available about Clean Water for Carolina Kids and the 20 years of environmental partnerships highlighted through the Roy Awards for Environmental Partnership.