Washington, DC - Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) on Thursday introduced the No Lead in School Water Act, a bill that would help schools test for and remove toxic lead contamination shown to cause irreparable damage to children’s brains. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 90,000 public schools and half a million child-care facilities nationwide are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Many of these schools don’t test their water for lead contamination because they lack the guidance necessary for accurate testing and the resources needed to fix their facilities if lead is found. The bill is cosponsored by 25 Members of Congress, including Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), who represents a district in Portland that recently found high lead levels in their schools’ water supply.

“We can’t continue to stick our heads in the sand in the hope that lead contamination will just go away,” said Rep. Speier. “Lead is extremely toxic to children, and there is no safe level of exposure. Congress did try to address this national health risk with the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, but the way the act was written resulted in it being deemed unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment, and so it failed. My bill fixes the issues in the original act by making the grant program voluntary with a set of national standards tied to funding opportunities. It’s time to protect our most vulnerable citizens once and for all.”

Rep. Blumenauer said, “My community was shocked to learn of widespread lead contamination in drinking water at our schools that was much worse than the initial results first reported. Portland is not alone. Schools across Oregon and the country are facing similar crises of lead in drinking water, and we’ve all let it happen. We need regular, rigorous, and transparent testing for lead and other contaminants, and more resources to fix the problem – especially as our water infrastructure continues to age. It’s past time to act to protect the health of our children.”

National news reports have revealed disturbing levels of lead in the water of many school facilities. A small Missouri Head Start program used bottled water for cooking after they found elevated lead in their water. Baltimore’s public schools switched entirely to bottled water in 2007 because of elevated lead. A Maine elementary school had lead contamination 41 times higher than the EPA action level. It took Jersey City Public Schools five years to create a plan to address lead in eight water fountains. And in Fresno, CA, one elementary school used bottled water paid for with state emergency money for a full year.

Rep. Speier’s bill would:
•    Amend the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 to direct the EPA to establish standards for state-based lead testing and remediation grant programs;
•    Make funds available for qualified grant programs;
•    Require regular reports to Congress on standard implementation, state participation, and program effectiveness.

The bill is supported by several children’s safety and health advocacy organizations including Earthjustice, First Focus Campaign for Children, Kids in Danger (KID), and the National Center for Healthy Housing.

Nancy Cowles, executive director for Kids In Danger, said, “Kids In Danger (KID) have worked hard to get lead out of children’s products and toys – we now have a tough standard to protect children from this source of lead. There is no safe level of lead and only by testing water for lead in all schools can we be sure our children are safe. KID supports the No Lead in School Water Act to make that happen.”  

Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children, said, “Children in every state face the danger of elevated lead levels in their schools and their communities. The devastating and irreversible effects of lead poisoning must be addressed in our schools if we want our children to grow up healthy and succeed later in life. We commend Congresswoman Speier and her colleagues in the House who support mandatory school lead testing and are willing to put the future of our children first. Our nation needs a comprehensive framework to address the nation’s lead poisoning crisis and this is a necessary step in that direction.”

Jenifer Collins, Associate Legislative Representative at Earthjustice, said“We must protect children from lead in drinking water, not only in their homes but also in schools where kids spend a vast amount of their time. Representative Speier’s bill is an important first step in addressing this problem, as it would give parents, local governments, and drinking water utilities the data that they need to protect children from harm. We must continue to work together to get lead out of school drinking water and we thank Rep. Speier for taking this necessary step.”