‘Get the Lead Out’

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Environment Washington Director Bruce Speight

Washington House Democrats included a “Get the Lead Out” proviso in the budget they released on March 25. The proviso would provide funding for lead testing at schools, require that schools communicate results to parents, educators and school staff, as well as a communication that no level of lead is safe in drinking water. However, the proviso included no funding for lead remediation and actions that will actually protect our kids from lead.

“After test results revealed that lead in school drinking water is pervasive in Washington State, we need funding to protect our kids from lead, not just more testing,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Director. “We already know we have a problem, it’s time to get the lead out and for the legislature to fund that.”

Last week, Environment Washington Research and Policy Center (RPC) and WashPIRG Foundation gave Washington State an “F” grade for addressing the problem of lead in school drinking water in a new national report. While the state of Washington has implemented a voluntary testing program, it is not mandatory; most importantly, there is no state requirement for schools and daycares to remediate. Washington State law does not require pro-active replacement of fountains, faucets and/or other lead-bearing parts, does not require pro-active installation of filters certified to remove lead at every outlet used for drinking or cooking, does not require immediate shut off of potable water outlets that exceed testing standard for lead, and allows lead in drinking water up to 15 parts per billion.

February 2019 report by Environment Washington found that more than 60 percent of drinking water taps in Washington 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.

The AAP has said no level of lead is safe for children and has called for an action level no higher than 1 ppb. The Pediatricians’ recommendation to reduce the action level to 1 ppb is based on medical research showing that levels of lead above 1 ppb will reduce children’s IQ.

“While this small amount of money for testing is likely welcome by some schools who haven’t tested, this is a missed opportunity by the legislature to solve the problem and get the lead out,” continued Speight. “Testing alone won’t protect our kids from lead exposure. It’s time to protect our kids from lead and remove lead-based infrastructure, or at the very least install filters on taps, or shut off taps and provide safe water alternatives. Legislators should improve this proviso by clarifying guidelines for flushing, and by providing funding for remediation.”

Flushing only reduces lead concentrations temporarily, and is unlikely to be sufficient to ensure safe drinking water for kids. Flushing would have to be performed daily at every outlet, for no less than three minutes at each outlet, and with some publicly verifiable way for parents to know that it is happening daily. Removing lead parts and installing filters should be mandatory.

“Lead has been banned in paint since 1977 and in gasoline for nearly as long; it’s about time we ‘get the lead out’ of our drinking water systems too. Legislators need to fund actions that will protect our kids and then pass HB 1860, which would also require schools to fix water outlets where lead levels reach 5 ppb or higher,” concluded Speight.

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that causes chronic problems: it lowers IQ and causes 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.

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