State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

Lawmakers attempt to tackle high lead levels in schools

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 15, 2018 4:26 AM
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There's no federal law that says schools have to be regularly tested for lead in their water. And in Pennsylvania, there's no state law either. (Photo by AP)


(Harrisburg) -- A group of Pennsylvania lawmakers and environmental advocates are trying to lower the lead levels in schools.

The problem extends beyond the commonwealth. Nationally, there's no requirement that schools be tested for lead at all.

In a recent review of 16 states' laws around testing schools' water for lead, advocacy group PennEnvironment gave Pennsylvania--and 11 other states--an F.

A limited USA Today study also found between 2012 and 2015, water in Pennsylvania schools and daycares failed to meet EPA lead standards at the second-highest rate nationally.

But a newly announced bill--sponsored by GOP Representative Karen Boback--would require both public and private schools test for lead every two years, and install filters or other fixes for any level above 5 parts per billion.

That's higher than the EPA's 15 parts per billion standard.

PennEnvironment's Stephanie Wein said it seems like an obvious move.

"There is residential testing done for lead in drinking water. That's standardized," she said. "Because there is no federal regulation that forces testing in school drinking water, there's actually this huge gap. So this seemed like we could make a difference as quickly as possible."

It's unclear how much testing and remediation would cost, or where funding would come from. The bill leaves that up to the State's Departments of Environmental Protection and Education.

"When you think of the long-term costs of the developmental delays and the loss of IQ points that come with early-life lead exposure, it seems like a pretty good deal," Wein said.

The bill currently has 50 cosigners, from both sides of the aisle.

It's inspired by similar standards introduced in Philadelphia schools--though it would allow even less lead in drinking water.

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