California lawmakers introduce bills to protect children from lead exposure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two bills introduced this legislative session aim to safeguard children’s health from the lasting and devastating effects of lead exposure through drinking water, an urgent threat in the state.

Assembly Bill 1851, by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would set up a state-funded pilot program to test for lead in drinking water in up to 10 school districts with plumbing installed before January 1, 2010. The Environmental Working Group and Children Now are co-sponsoring the bill. On March 19, it passed out of the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.

Assembly Bill 2671, by Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), would protect babies, toddlers and children by ensuring lead-free drinking water at family care homes. EWG and California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG, are co-sponsoring the bill. It was referred to two committees on March 4.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can permanently harm children’s intellectual development and affect their behavior and ability to concentrate. Even in tiny amounts, it can lower a child’s IQ, slow growth and harm hearing. Studies show lead’s harm cannot be reversed. There is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Together, the two bills would create important new protections to shield children from the damaging effects of lead in drinking water.

Require lead tests in some school districts

The goal of Holden’s bill is to lower lead levels to zero. If enacted, it would help identify and clean up any faucets on campuses with potable water that release lead above 5 parts per billion, or ppb.

“Lead consumption among youth and disenfranchised communities occurs at a higher rate. Assisting schools with the resources and appropriate standards to ensure the water our children drink is safe will help us protect our schools, students and communities,” said Holden.

“Children do not become more resistant to lead’s toxic effects once they transition from day care to kindergarten, so California should take the responsible step of aligning child care and school lead testing standards,” he added.

Holden has long championed drinking water safety. He authored a law in 2018 requiring licensed child care centers in the state to test their tap water for lead contamination.

The results of those tests, released last year, revealed alarming levels of lead. The drinking water in nearly 1,700 licensed child care centers statewide – one in four – topped 5 ppb, the allowable threshold in California.

Over 260 centers found levels between 50 and 1,000 ppb – 50 to 200 times the limit. One center found levels as high as 11,300 ppb. That’s 2,200 times the amount of lead California allows in child care center drinking water.

Because of the lifelong serious health harms linked to childhood lead exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead in drinking water not exceed 1 ppb.

"Even in minuscule amounts, lead can irreversibly damage young minds and bodies, leading to developmental delays, cognitive disorders and lifelong health complications,” said Susan Little, EWG senior advocate for California government affairs.

“We must act swiftly to protect our children from the devastating effects of lead exposure, which can rob them of their potential and inflict a lifetime of suffering,” she said. “Lead is not just a neurotoxin; it's a ticking time bomb that threatens our kids' health and well-being.”

“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 EWG 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.

Licensed child care centers must use water filters

Weber’s bill responds in part to the alarming results of drinking water tests at the state’s licensed child care centers. If enacted, it would require the installation of lead-removing water filters at the 28,000 family care homes where tests were not conducted.

“We know that lead exposure is linked to slowed growth and development of children, and that it damages the brain and nervous system,” said Weber. “Children are some of the most vulnerable residents in our state, and we cannot continue to allow them to be unintentionally poisoned in the same facilities where they are cared for.”

Drinking water is a significant source of exposure to lead. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the most common sources of lead in water are lead pipes, faucets and fixtures.

“Parents expect their kid’s child care facilities to be safe – not to come with a daily dose of lead-tainted water,” said Jenn Engstrom, CALPIRG state director. “Rather than wait for more testing to show that our kids have been drinking lead, we should be doing everything we can now to get the lead out. That means starting with filters first.”

With the introduction of these two bills, the Golden State’s elected leaders continue to sound the alarm about the threat of childhood lead exposure and the urgent need to safeguard Californians’ health.


The Environmental Working Group 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. Visit for more information.

CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is a statewide nonprofit organization that works to protect public health and consumers. Learn more at

Children Now is a non-partisan, whole-child research, policy development and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health, education and well-being in California. The organization also leads the Children’s Movement of California, a network of over 4,800 direct service, parent, youth, civil rights, faith-based and community groups dedicated to improving children’s well-being. Learn more at

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