Albany, N.Y., June 18—Amid growing reports of lead in school drinking water throughout New York State, the Legislature early this morning gave final legislative approval to legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) to require schools to test for lead contamination at the tap in public schools, inform parents and teachers of the test results, provide state funds for testing and remediation, and require the state Department of Health to create an annual report based on these tests.
The legislation (S8158/A10740) is an agreed-upon measure and will now be delivered to Governor Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law. Once enacted, New York becomes the first state in the nation to undertake statewide testing.
Throughout the past few weeks, O’Mara and Lupardo have joined a coalition of New York public health, environment, and healthy schools advocacy groups to urge support for the measure’s enactment.
O’Mara, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "This is a critical action for school children across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and all of New York State. There’s not a more important place to start this overall and ongoing effort to better address lead contamination than within our schools to protect our children. The increasing incidents of lead contamination in school drinking water systems demand that we take short- and long-term actions to strengthen testing, reporting and remediation requirements. We're beginning to achieve these goals in a way that does not impose an unfunded mandate on school districts. I appreciate working closely with Assemblywoman Lupardo and many public health, environmental and healthy schools advocates to get this first, critical step done."
[Watch Senator O'Mara's comments at a recent news conference at the Capitol on the need for the new law HERE]
Lupardo, chair of the Assembly Children and Families Committee, said, "The safety of children is always our number one priority. Given that many of our area schools are located in aging buildings, it is important that we make sure their water is safe. Ensuring regular testing is being conducted was the main focus of this legislation, but it is also important these results are made public so parents and teachers know what is in the water at their schools.”
The bill would require schools to test for lead contamination at the tap in public schools, inform parents and teachers of the test results, provide state funds for testing and remediation, and require the state Department of Health to create an annual report based on these tests. Schools would be able to be reimbursed for the cost of remediation projects through building aid. Schools which recently performed testing and met the established standards would also be eligible for a waiver.
Lead is a major health hazard, especially for young children. It has been found in drinking water systems t more than 90 school districts across the state including Ithaca, Binghamton, Rochester and on Long Island. Numerous studies have shown that lead poisoning is most detrimental to young children, who absorb lead faster than adults.
Two federal rules address lead in the drinking water: the Lead Contamination Control Act (1988), and The Lead and Copper Rule or LCR (1991, amended in 2000). These rules provide guidelines for the testing of water for lead contamination. For schools, the guidelines
are recommendations and not mandatory.
Currently testing is voluntary and only a handful of school districts report the results. The O’Mara-Lupardo legislation would ensure that regular testing of school drinking water systems is completed and require that parents, teachers and others are notified of testing results in a timely manner. The legislation also allows school aid to be used for the testing and remediation of lead contamination in school districts.
Specifically, the legislation:
> directs the Department of Health in consultation with the State Education Department to promulgate regulations requiring school districts to test potable water sources and systems for lead. General guidelines are provided for the regulations and reporting of test results;
> allows the state education commissioner to authorize funding to cover the expense related to testing and remediation of potable water sources and systems;
> permits additional apportionment of state building aid for building condition surveys of school buildings; and
> requires the state Health and Education Departments to submit a joint report on the initial results of tap water testing of public schools to the Governor and the Legislature by December 1, 2016.