Safer Drinking Water in Schools: NY Leg. Votes for Our Kids

The New York State Legislature passed a bill (S2122-A/A160-B) in the final days of this legislative session to require stricter measures to reduce lead in drinking water in schools. This is a huge win for kids!

In 2016, New York State approved the first mandatory program to test and remediate lead at all drinking water taps in every public school in the state. But the data showed that too many faucets were tested above the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb): 82 percent of public schools reported having one or more faucets tested above the state’s action level, which is already not a health-protective level. is.

In fact, there is no safe level of lead for children. This new legislation would lower the action level to 5 ppb, closer to the 1 ppb action level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Schools are the places where children spend most of their time outdoors. When they are in school, children deserve to drink unleaded water. This bill is a necessary step in the right direction.

Why school drinking water contains lead

Lead enters schools in drinking water via the sanitary facilities in the schools; it does not enter the water from the water company. The lead leach or flake off the sanitary products within the schools. The problem is, there is no such thing as lead-free plumbing products.

For decades – until 1986 – there were no restrictions on lead content in plumbing products. In 1986, Congress amended the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to require lead-free plumbing products to contain up to 8 percent lead. This definition of lead-free was in effect until 2014.

In 2011, but effective in 2014, “lead-free” under the Safe Drinking Water Act now allows up to 0.25% lead in piping materials labeled “lead-free” (technically, “no more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead when used in connection with the wet surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, sanitary fittings and fixtures” and “containing not more than 0.2 percent lead when used in connection with solders and fluxes”).

What this means is that schools can have plumbing products that predate 1986, or were installed between 1986-2014 and then after 2014, all with varying levels of lead.

Filter first strategy

Until the plumbing manufacturers bring true lead-free plumbing products to market, the best way to deal with this situation now is a “Filter First” strategy. Schools should install water filtration stations – a drinking water fountain with a filter certified to remove lead from drinking water. Children can refill their water bottles at these stations.

One day we will have truly lead-free plumbing products. Until that day, Filter First in schools is the most protective and effective solution for the water our children drink at school.

Other measures of the bill

The bill passed by the New York legislature included other measures to improve New York’s existing program, such as:

  • changing the frequency of testing from every five years to every three years;
  • require the publication of the actual laboratory reports, eliminating the need to file Freedom of Information Act requests for the data;
  • eliminating the exemption from testing and remediation for so-called “lead-free” schools;
  • ensure that schools provide free replacement water to school residents when needed; and
  • providing funding for remediation of the state’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

Schools are the places where children spend most of their time outdoors. When they are in school, children deserve to drink unleaded water. This bill is a necessary step in the right direction. We thank the New York State Legislature for its leadership in this important program, especially bill sponsors, Senator Gustavo Rivera and Member of Parliament Richard Gottfried, and we will work with the New York Governor to ensure this bill is legally signed.

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