Bills On Tap At Mass. State House Target Lead In School Water

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are pushing legislation aimed at improving the safety of drinking water in schools in part by requiring schools and child care centers to test every drinking water outlet each year for elevated lead levels.

Legislation on tap in the Massachusetts House and Senate would force schools to immediately shut off drinking water outlets that show elevated lead levels. The water outlet could be turned on only after it has produced at least two sets of certified test results showing no elevated lead levels.

Water fountains that show elevated lead levels would be replaced with filtered bottle-filling stations.

The legislation would also give public water systems in cities and towns three years to fully replace lead service lines at every school district, charter school, nonpublic school and child care center in their district.

The bills would also create a Lead in School Drinking Water Trust Fund. The fund would be administered by the state commissioner of elementary and secondary and would give grants and donations to help local school districts meet the demands of the legislation.

Dozens of lawmakers in the House and Senate — Democrats and Republicans — have signed on to co-sponsor the effort.

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin, and children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of ingesting it. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has said there is no safe level of lead.

The push comes as a new report gives Massachusetts a D for policies addressing lead in school drinking water.

The study by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group and Environment Massachusetts sought to grade the effectiveness of policies addressing lead in school drinking water in 32 states.

While the bulk received an F, Massachusetts did little better.

The groups said that while the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker have taken some steps to ensure the safety of school drinking water, more needs to be done.

"Massachusetts is still not doing enough to protect our kids from lead in drinking water," Emma Dietz, clean water program at Environment Massachusetts, said in a news release accompanying the report. "We need policies that actually get the lead out of faucets and fountains in our schools and pre-schools."

In his proposed budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, Baker has proposed funding to help schools take steps to remove lead from drinking water.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, one of the backers of the legislation, said the report makes it clear that there is "a public health emergency here in Massachusetts damaging children's developing brains."

"We already know how harmful prolonged lead exposure is, which is why we removed it from gas and paint. The evidence is clear that we need to act to remove it from school drinking water, too," the Marblehead Democrat said in a statement. "Parents send their students to school expecting them to learn and grow, not to risk lasting harm. We owe it to our children and their futures to do something."

Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG, said the House and Senate bills and Baker's proposed budget are causes for optimism.

She said if both pass "Massachusetts would rise to the top of the class, earning an A for protecting children from lead in their drinking water."


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