Lawmakers At Capitol Discuss Push To Require Lead Testing In All Public Schools

Jun 7, 2016

Concerned about children's exposure to lead found in drinking water, lawmakers met with reporters today at the state capitol in Albany to discuss a last-minute push to require lead testing in all public schools.

School districts in New York are not required to test drinking water for the presence of lead.

An amended bill introduced in March includes a five-point action plan that would require all school districts to test for lead at the tap, plan when elevated lead levels are found, share findings with parents and teachers, provide state funds for testing and remediation, and require the state Department of Health to create an annual report based on those tests.

State Senator Tom O'Mara, a Republican from the 58th district, is chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and lead co-sponsor of the bill.  "We can't continue to allow our students in school to drink unknown quality water."

Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring worries about buildings in his system that are over 100 years old. "And it's those older fixtures, those older pieces of plumbing and solder and these kinds of things that we have concerns about."

In the Greater Amsterdam School District, Superintendent Thomas Perillo says bottled water is being used after testing this spring at elementary schools. "Elevated levels of lead, above the Environmental Protection Agency's acceptable level, were found in water samples taken from a variety of sources located in three out of our four elementary schools, including drinking fountains and combined sink-faucets and drinking fountain units."

Faucets, fittings and pipes are to be replaced in an upcoming capital project. 

Jaqi Cohen, Senior Legislative Associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group, notes many of the state's school districts have already conducted voluntary tests and found elevated levels of lead.   "New York parents and taxpayers have the right to know what's in their school drinking water and have the right to keep their kids safe in school. And they deserve peace of mind about the safety of their children. With only six days left of the legislative session, the time to get the lead out or our children's drinking water is now."

New York League of Conservation Voters Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Christopher Goeken says that with approximately 3,000 school buildings across the state, the estimated cost of testing is pegged somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000 per building.   "You're looking a cost probably between $15 and $25 million if we were to do every single school building in the state."

Supporters are confident they'll have a funding stream in place and vow that passage of the bill will not result in an unfunded mandate.