News Feature | January 31, 2017

Schools In California Can Now Compel Utilities To Test For Lead

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

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California unveiled a new policy this month that will allow schools to test the lead levels in their tap water for free if they request the service, eschewing the mandatory testing requirements some states instituted in the aftermath of the Flint, MI, lead crisis.

“The initiative announced by the State Water Resources Control Board keeps lead testing at schools voluntary. However, if a K-12 school requests testing by its public water system, the utility is obligated to collect samples within three months and report findings to the school within two business days. The state said the program will stay in effect until Nov. 1, 2019,” The Desert Sun reported.

“Most schools are not required to test for lead, creating uncertainty about whether the water children consume during the school day is safe, but some schools in California have dealt with high levels of lead and in some cases shut off access to water coming through pipes and taps,” the report said.

Darrin Polhemus, a California water official, praised the policy in a statement from the State Water Board.

“While the presence of lead in California’s water infrastructure is minimal compared to other parts of the country, additional testing can help ensure we are continuing to protect our most vulnerable populations,” he said.

The burden of funding the program will fall on communities, but the state will provide assistance in some instances, the water board said.

“The community water systems are responsible for the costs associated with collecting drinking water samples, analyzing them and reporting results through this new program. In addition, the State Water Board’s Division of Financial Assistance will have some funding available to assist with addressing lead found in tests, with a particular focus on schools in disadvantaged communities,” the statement said.

Many states have grappled with how to confront the issue of lead in school drinking water. Illinois enacted a law in January “requiring schools and day cares to test for lead in drinking water sources, though several local schools have already conducted testing in recent years and might be compliant under the new rules,” Governing reported.

The water crisis in Flint, MI, spurred a debate about school lead testing rules in state legislatures across the country.

“More than 20 states debated school testing legislation last year after the water crisis in Flint, MI, drew renewed national attention to the widespread use of lead plumbing in older buildings. Only New York and Rhode Island enacted new laws,” the Chicago Tribune reported, citing the National Conference of State Legislatures

“Federal regulations require school districts to test water for lead only if they own a private water supply,” the report added.

Though it would not be covered by California’s new policy, one of the latest lead scares struck at Sacramento State this month.

“Students at Sacramento State returned to school after winter break this week to find drinking fountains, bottle-filling stations and sinks in six classroom buildings and two dormitories shut down after elevated lead levels were discovered in the water,” The Sacramento Bee reported.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.

Image credit: "too short," Clemens v. Vogelsang © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/