Bill curbing lead in school drinking water heads to Governor

Washington
Ted S. Warren
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, talks with a student as teacher Alyson Lykken, center, looks on, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, during a visit to a low-incidence disability classroom at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Public and private schools in Washington state will soon need to take new steps to curb children’s exposure to lead in drinking water.

House Bill 1139, cleared a final hurdle in the state Senate on a 48-0 vote on Sunday, The Seattle Times reported. It’s designed to address gaps in school-safety requirements by mandating schools fix or replace fixtures that leach the toxin into water sources.

The House approved the measure on a 94-4 vote on March 4. It next heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for his signature.

Until now, the state has not required schools to test or keep records on lead levels, although some do voluntarily.

“It is actually a model for the nation, this bill,” said state Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor.

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Schools now will be required to test water outlets — including drinking fountains, but also bathroom sinks and those used to prepare lunch — in schools built before 2016. The state Department of Health is tasked with conducting the tests, but schools are also allowed to contract with private testing companies. They’ll need to test every five years and post results publicly on the Department of Health website. Testing should begin shortly after the bill takes effect, Pollet said.

If outlets come back with high lead levels, schools have to fix or replace them. The bill provides $3 million to support this effort, plus an additional $1 million for the state to coordinate testing.

Voluntary testing among nearly 200 of the state’s elementary schools has shown that 97% of schools had at least one faucet with a lead concentration of more than one part per billion, the recommended threshold for safe drinking water according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.

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