California lawmaker introduces bill to eliminate lead from school drinking water

SAN FRANCISCO – California Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) on Wednesday introduced a bill aimed at removing all lead from drinking and cooking water used in schools, which would help protect young children from lead’s serious harms.

If the Legislature approves the bill, A.B. 249, and it is signed into law, it would mandate testing for lead at all drinking water fountains and cooking faucets in TK-12 schools. The bill would also create a statutory goal of reducing lead levels in schools to zero. If lead is detected at schools above 5 parts per billion, or ppb, the problem must be addressed. Dedicated federal and state funds would pay for the tests and cleanup.

“Lead consumption among youth and disenfranchised communities is at a higher rate,” said Holden. “Helping schools with resources and criteria to regulate the water fountains that most children drink from is a step toward healthier schools, students and communities.”

“Lead is a neurotoxin that can permanently damage young children’s nervous systems,” said Susan Little, the Environmental Working Group’s California senior government affairs advocate. “Even small amounts of lead can lower a child’s intelligence, cause behavior and learning problems, slow growth, and harm hearing.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of lead. This harmful substance doesn’t belong in the drinking water children consume at school. We appreciate Assemblymember Holden’s work to get lead out of water,” said Little.

Earlier drinking water tests on school campuses covered just a few faucets at each location, with remediation required only if lead was detected at 15 ppb or higher. Despite the minimal testing and cleanup done at that time, nearly one in five campuses identified a faucet leaching more than 5 ppb lead.

“Lead exposure is a health, education and racial justice issue for our kids,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a statewide children’s advocacy organization.

“We thank Assemblymember Holden for authoring this legislation to protect students from lead in drinking water, and we are pleased to partner with the Environmental Working Group to co-sponsor the bill. Children Now is committed to ensuring that schools have the support and resources they need to keep kids safe,” said Lempert. 

The 0 ppb goal and 5 ppb standard in A.B. 249 are also used for tests of child care center drinking water, as mandated by another law, A.B. 2370, enacted in 2018

This year’s bill is cosponsored by EWG and Children Now.

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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