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60.8% of WA schools taps tested have unsafe levels of lead

State Bill, HB 1860, to Protects Kids from Lead-Tainted Drinking Water Before State Education Committee
For Immediate Release

Seattle, WI – A new report by Environment Washington found that more than 60 percent of drinking water taps in schools that were tested for lead had elevated levels of lead, above 1 part per billion (ppb). Of the 199 schools and preschools tested, 97 percent had at least one tap where lead was detected at 1 ppb in the water. Recognizing that there is no safe level of lead, especially for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging schools to limit lead in drinking water to 1 part per billion.

“We can now confirm that lead in school drinking water is a serious problem in Washington, and a public health crisis that we need to address,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Director. “The state of Washington needs to act now to protect our kids from this dangerous neurotoxin.”

Rep. Pollet has introduced a bill would protect kids from lead in schools’ drinking water; HB 1860 would require schools to notify parents when tests detect lead levels exceeding 1 part per billion (ppb), and to remediate at water outlets where lead levels reach 5 ppb or higher.

“Why would any school official or health official not want to know what the lead level is in school water?” said Representative Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle). “Why would any school or health official not want to ensure that the lead contamination in children’s school water is never above the level that reduces children’s IQ?”

The bill has been referred to the Education Committee, but Committee Chair, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-South Seattle), has not scheduled a hearing, despite a looming cutoff for bills to advance this Friday.

“Why isn’t there time to schedule a hearing on an issue that can reduce exposure to a dangerous neurotoxin that impacts the development of our kids,” continued Speight. “Scheduling a hearing for HB 1860 would show that the Washington legislature is ready to act on this critical threat to our kids' health."

Environment Washington collected data from the Washington Department of Health website, which provides information about lead in drinking water at schools.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that causes chronic problems: it can cause loss of IQ points and behavioral problems. Lead is especially damaging to kids – impairing how they learn, grow, and behave. Medical literature cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows more than 24 million children in America are at risk of losing IQ points due to low levels of lead. A Wisconsin study found that 3,757 fourth-graders with relatively low lead levels in their blood “scored significantly lower on reading and math tests than those without elevated blood-lead levels”- an adverse effect that persisted for these children seven to eight years later.

“2000 years ago we knew that ‘Lead makes the mind give way.’ The facts of science, along with the CDC, tells us that there is no “safe” level of lead exposure, particularly for children, added Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT, INND (Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders). “It is time we took our ethical responsibilities seriously to make sure that our children develop in a lead free environment that ensures that they can reach and maintain their full intellectual potential.”

In addition to adopting HB 1860, the report recommends that the state take the following actions:

  • Proactively get the lead out of schools by removing lead service lines and other lead-bearing parts of schools’ water systems;
  • Install and maintain filters certified to remove lead on taps and fountains used for cooking or drinking;
  • Adopt a 1 ppb limit for lead in schools’ drinking water as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and immediately remove from service any taps where testing indicates lead in excess of this level;
  • Require testing at all water outlets annually using protocols designed to capture worst-case lead exposure; and
  • Disclose all specific test results and plans for remediation and provide funding to ensure schools have the resources to take the steps outlined above.

“Here in the 21st century, it is astounding that the water our children drink is sometimes laced with lead - a toxic substance that damages their health, learning, and development,” concluded Speight. “We thank Rep. Pollet for introducing this important bill, which will put our schools on track to get the lead out, and urge action by state leaders on this important public health bill.”

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Environment Washington is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.