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Statement: The Bruce Speight Act, which addresses lead in school drinking water, clears final major legislative hurdle

Legislation sets lead limit but more action needed
For Immediate Release

OLYMPIA—The Washington State Senate Sunday unanimously approved House Bill 1139, which aims to reduce lead in schools’ drinking water.  Sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet, the bill was named after Bruce Speight, Environment Washington’s former state director, who passed away in 2019. 

House Bill 1139 passed the House in March and  Gov. Jay Inslee is then expected to sign the bill after a procedural House vote. The bill establishes mandatory lead testing in all Washington public schools, limits lead in school drinking water to 5 parts per billion (ppb) and provides $3 million to help schools remediate their taps.  While these measures are to be applauded, advocates caution that there is more work to do to ensure safe drinking water for Washington kids when they’re at school.  

In response, Environment Washington’s Acting Director Pam Clough released the following statement:

“The Washington Legislature's approval of House Bill 1139 is a key step toward reducing lead in our schools’ drinking water. Even at low levels, lead is especially damaging to children -- impairing how they learn, grow and behave. Yet most schools have lead-bearing fountains, faucets or plumbing. And so it is tragic but hardly surprising that our researchers found 60 percent of the taps tested at Washington schools found lead in the water.  Wherever there is lead in the system, our children’s drinking water is at risk.

“That is why Environment Washington has used research, advocacy and organizing to build support for a comprehensive policy to “get the lead out” at our schools this year, continuing the work that our friend and colleague Bruce Speight started in 2017. We are grateful for the steadfast support from the UW School of Public Health, the Washington State PTA, and all of the medical professionals and hundreds of concerned parents from across the state that talked to their legislators about the hazards of lead exposure in kids and how this bill would help address this issue. 

“House Bill 1139 takes important steps to reduce this problem, but the work is far from over. In 2019, our policy analysts gave Washington a failing grade in addressing lead in children’s drinking water.  House Bill 1139 will raise our state’s grade to a C+. We are committed to doing all that we can in the coming months and years to get our state to an A.  

Bruce would be proud of this bill as a first step, and he would urge us to never stop fighting to ensure safe drinking water for all Washington’s children.“

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