U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced the U.S. Senate passed his legislation, which will help school districts across New York State test their drinking water for potential lead contamination.
Schumer’s legislation was included in the Water Resource Development Act.
The senator said this bill would establish a new $20 million federal grant program for schools that choose to test for lead beyond this school year. He said, “Our first priority should be keeping New York State children’s drinking water safe when they are at school.”
He called the passage of his legislation a critical first step and vowed to fight for more funding to address lead contamination in school drinking water.
“It is imperative that we provide a steady stream of support for the schools in New York and around our country to test the quality of our kids’ drinking water. We worked hard to pass a bill that addresses the yawning gap in our national lead-testing protocols, and now I’m hopeful that my bill will earn strong bipartisan support in the House and quickly become law,” he said.
Schumer said the recent lead contamination of the Ithaca School District in Upstate New York has made it clear that lead pipes could still be contaminating the water that runs from both independent and public water sources and, therefore, potentially tainting the water that our children are drinking.
Specifically, higher levels of lead were found in more than 50 samples taken at the Caroline Elementary School, and in 11 samples taken at the Enfield Elementary School.
The lead-water levels were found to be over 15 parts per billion, which is considered to be actionable by the federal EPA. These two Ithaca-area schools were able to detect this lead in a timely manner because they have been required to test for lead every three years; this is a requirement of districts serviced by private well water.
However, because the other 10 school buildings within the district are serviced by a public municipal water source, were never required to complete this kind of lead testing.
Schumer said this discrepancy means other schools across the state may be slipping through the cracks and therefore contain lead as well.
More resources and financial incentives must be provided to states like New York so communities can better protect their children – and workers – when they are at school, he added.
Specifically, Schumer’s legislation will create a new $20 million federal grant program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would help school districts across New York State test their drinking water for potential lead contamination.
Schumer said that with more than 100,000 schools across the U.S., including more than 700 school districts – which encapsulate more than 13,000 individual schools – across the State of New York alone, it is critical educational institutions are able to test for lead if they wish to.
An annual grant program would encourage schools to apply for federal funding year-in and year-out: if a school district did not apply for or receive funding to test for lead in that particular year, they could apply the following year, the senator said.
Schumer said that, despite successful work over the past decade to reduce the number of children with blood-lead levels of at least 10 micrograms per deciliter across Upstate NY, there is still a large number of children now known to have blood-lead levels between 5-9 micrograms per deciliter.
Since 2012, the CDC has used a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children who have blood-lead levels that are much higher than most other children and are considered dangerous.
According to the National Institutes of Health, lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children’s developing nerves and brains. According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, childhood exposure to lead has lifelong consequences, including decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays and behavioral problems.
Very high levels of lead exposure can cause seizures, coma and even death.