State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Report gives PA an 'F' in lead contamination prevention

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 28, 2017 9:25 PM

Hughes speaks at a press conference on the report, along with various advocates. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

(Harrisburg) -- A recent report has given Pennsylvania a failing grade for its efforts to protect children from high levels of lead in the water at their schools.

The report comes from Public Interest Research Groups, a national federation of independent nonprofits. It advises--among other things--that schools install water filters as soon as possible while working on longer-term solutions.

The group said that eventually, old lead pipes will have to be completely removed--an expensive endeavor.

Past efforts by lawmakers to address the lead issue have made little progress in recent years.

In a review of 16 states, the PIRG gave 12--including Pennsylvania--an F, meaning the commonwealth has "failed to establish any meaningful laws or policy" to reduce lead in school water.

State Senator Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, was part of a cohort of democrats who introduced a five-bill package last session to deal with the lead. It didn't move far, but Hughes said the bills will all be back this session.

"To have an F requires a response," he said. "To have an F requires that legislation and funding be moved to address this problem."

Hughes's bill would establish a 500 million dollar so-called "superfund" to fix lead-ridden plumbing,

Other bills would create requirements for lead testing in daycares and schools, require an option for lead testing in property sales, and launch a task force to study the issue.

The details for how to pay for all this aren't totally worked out yet, but Hughes said it will probably be a combination of local, state, and federal money.

Hughes noted, Flint, Michigan's high profile water contamination case drew necessary attention to the lead issue.

He cited a Department of Health report from 2014 that showed 20 cities across Pennsylvania are home to children whose blood tested even higher for lead than Flint residents' did.

"All across the state," he said, describing the areas where lead impacts children. "All across the state of Pennsylvania. Big urban cities, small rural communities."

As for the recommendation that schools install water filters, a spokesman for Hughes said the legislature will probably have to leave that up to individual schools, if they can afford it.

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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