Bills would increase testing of drinking water in school

Bills would increase testing of drinking water in school

(Calif.) State lawmakers are pushing for more transparency and quicker action in dealing with contaminated water in schools after cities across the U.S. have discovered traces of lead in drinking water over the past three years.

Members of both the Assembly and Senate have proposed new protocols for schools to follow when lead or other contaminants are found as well as additional reporting on access to safe drinking water and water supply requirements for new rural schools.

“Parents across the country and California—particularly in disadvantaged areas—continue to be concerned that their children might be exposed to dirty drinking water,” Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, author of SB 210, said in a statement. “It is vital that, as soon as schools find out that their water is contaminated, they close access to those water sources and be transparent about their prompt efforts to fix the problem.”

Under Leyva’s bill, schools that find drinking water containing amounts of lead or other harmful contaminants exceeding the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards are required to cut off access to contaminated water sources and provide alternative clean water, such as water bottles or portable drinking stations. Districts must then notify parents, staff and students about water issues at the school site.

The ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan since 2014 has spotlighted the issue lead-contaminated water poses to the public. Even in small amounts, lead can cause serious and irreversible damage to children’s brains and nervous systems as they develop, resulting in behavioral, cognitive and physical problems.

Federal law does not require districts to test for contaminated water at schools, nor are there mandates about cleaning up the drinking water supply at school sites. But individual states including Illinois, New Jersey and New York have recently enacted laws requiring comprehensive lead testing of school drinking water.

Officials found one elementary school in the Bronx where lead levels were 16 times higher than in Flint, according to a letter sent to parents from the New York City Department of Education earlier this month.

Contaminated water has also been discovered in schools across Oregon, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania–where one district is facing a federal lawsuit after high levels of lead in an elementary school's water allegedly went unresolved for approximately five months.

Under Leyva’s bill, districts would be required to act promptly to ensure there is not a similar delay in California schools. Additionally, schools that have tested their drinking water sources for lead and do not meet the United States Protection Agency drinking water standards will be granted priority status for grant money to help improve access to, and the quality of, healthy drinking water.

“From schools in Flint, Michigan to those in California communities, lead contaminated water has disrupted the lives and education of children,” Leyva said. “By incentivizing schools to test water sources and address contamination through better access to state grants, SB 210 will help to protect our kids from drinking unsafe drinking water.”

A separate bill, AB 305, authored by Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, would require school sites to include an assessment of the drinking water access points as part of their the school accountability report cards.

The State Department of Education would be required to compile the data and transmit them to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Under AB 68, authored by Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, school facilities built after January 1, 2018 and located within 2 miles of an operating farm must obtain their water supply from a public water system–opposed to operating their own water source. The bill aims to reduce possible issues with contamination caused by pesticides used by farmers.