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New Report Gives WA State an “F” for Policies to Prevent Lead Exposure in School Drinking Water

It’s Time to Get the Lead out of School Drinking Water
For Immediate Release

Olympia, WA – Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, WashPIRG and Environment Washington today launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign.  An analysis by Environment Washington gave Washington State a grade of ‘F,’ failing to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.  Environment Washington and WashPIRG are calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in Washington’s schools and daycares.

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but Washington is failing to protect our kids from lead in drinking water” said Bruce Speight, WashPIRG Director. “Kids’ developing brains are especially susceptible to highly toxic lead so it’s time to get the lead out.”

With limited data on the presence of lead in Washington schools, we don’t know the extent of the problem here.  But, as more states’ test their schools’ water, they are finding lead. 

Yet a new report by Environment Washington Research and Policy Center shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  For example, the report cites new data from Massachusetts, where half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Dr. Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT, at the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders at the University of Washington.  “There is no safe level of lead for children. We have an ethical responsibility to eliminate lead exposure from our children’s environment so they can reach and maintain their full potential.”

All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.   In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. 

Unfortunately, current state law does far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.  Washington State administrative code requires testing, but it is currently unenforced because there is no funding for it.  Washington State requires no remediation, and allows lead in drinking water up to 15 parts per billion.  Washington received partial credit for the Governor’s goal of removing all lead service lines in 15 years.  In Environment Washington Research and Policy Center’s comparison of 16 states, these shortcomings gave Washington State a GRADE OF ‘F’.

“We were disappointed to find that Washington’s efforts are a “F” at the back of the class for protecting children from lead at school.  Our kids deserve better,” said Speight.
 
HB 1805, introduced by State Representative Jessyn Farrell, would change that by requiring water utilities to remove lead service lines to schools and day care centers within 3 years.  HB 1925, introduced by State Representative Gerry Pollet, would also take significant strides forward in protecting our kids from lead exposure at school by requiring filters certified to remove lead at every tap used for drinking and cooking, allowing no more than 1 ppb of lead in water at school, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“No one should stand in the way of doing all we can to ensure the safety of our children’s drinking water,” said State Representative Gerry Pollet, and an Instructor at the UW School of Public Health. “We must ensure that water in schools is safe. We must adopt an action level for lead at one part per billion.”

“Do we really want to wait for more tests to show that our kids have been drinking lead?” asked Speight.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

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The Environment Washington Research and Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to protecting Washington’s air, water and open spaces.  We investigate programs, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help Washingtonians make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.  For more information about Environment Washington Research and Policy Center or for additional copies of this report, please visit www.environmentwashingtoncenter.org.

WashPIRG Foundation is also a 501(c)(3) organization that offers an independent voice on behalf of the public interest.  We advocate to protect consumers and promote good government through investigations, public education, and civic engagement.  www.washpirgfoundation.org. 

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