Schools, health groups and community groups call for legislation to reduce lead exposure in drinking water

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Schools are taking action to ‘get the lead out’ and protect our children, but need access to lead-free faucets


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With kids across California heading back to school, Assemblymember Chris Holden and supporters of his Assembly Bill 100, which would ban the manufacture and sale in California of water faucets and fixtures that leach excess lead, held a web conference Thursday. During the event, members of CALPIRG, Clean Water Action, the Environmental Working Group and the Western Center on Law and Poverty called on the state Senate to pass legislation to reduce lead exposure in our drinking water. 

“We all expect the water we drink will keep us and our children healthy, and not make us sick,” said Assemblymember Holden, who represents District 41, including Pasadena and several other cities northeast of Los Angeles. “This legislation ensures that faucets and plumbing fixtures sold in California leach as little lead as possible.” 

Lead is a highly toxic metal that’s especially dangerous for kids. Even low levels can stunt children’s physical, intellectual and behavioral development. Assemblymember Holden’s bill would restrict the amount of lead leaching from faucets and fixtures to no more than 1 microgram, which is five times lower than the current industry standard.

“AB 100 will go a long way to protecting our children from lead and the subsequent neurological challenges,” said Dr. Alice Kuo, Chief of UCLA Medicine-Pediatrics/Preventive Medicine 

“Western Center is proud to support AB 100, which would reduce Californians’ daily exposure to lead, a harmful neurotoxin that silently and disproportionately affects low-income families, including families of color,” said Linda Nguy, from the Western Center on Law and Poverty Policy Advocate. “We know that even small amounts of lead results in intellectual deficits, behavioral and learning problems, and slow growth that is irreversible and lasts a lifetime, so it is critical to remove lead sources from our water endpoint devices.”

But “endpoint devices” such as faucets are still allowed to leach high amounts of lead. AB 100 will allow us to know that faucets leach as little lead as possible and meet the highest standard. 

“It is ridiculous that Californians are still exposed to lead from fixtures leaching significant amounts into our drinking water,” said Susan Little, Environmental Working Group’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “Ending lead exposure is critical to protect our kids’ health, and once again, California is moving the nation toward this goal.  We greatly appreciate Assemblymember Holden’s work to ensure that California schools, child care centers and consumers will be able to find faucets and plumbing fixtures that leach as little lead as possible.”

“The tragic consequences of lead exposure are totally avoidable”, said Andria Ventura, Policy Director at Clean Water Action.  “Assemblymember Holden’s AB 100 is a huge step toward such prevention for all Californians.  That’s why we are proud to support this essential bill.”

California has been working on lead remediation for years. In 2017, the state legislature passed Assembly Bill 746, which mandated that public water utilities sample and test for lead in public schools’ tap water. Since then, the state budget has allocated funds to upgrade school and childcare center drinking-water plumbing. 

Oakland Unified School District was quick to act, and has adopted a policy to do additional testing and replace contaminated faucets. “Bottom Line is, we are about educating our kids but we are also about making sure that they are safe and healthy. We appreciate the work that has been done,” said John Sasaki, Director of Communications with Oakland Unified School District. 

Assemblymember Holden’s 2018 bill, AB 2370, requires child care centers to also test their drinking water for lead and to lower those levels if lead is found.  The state will be spending $5 million of its own funds to pay for child care centers’ lead testing.  If passed, AB 100 will help centers meet the state’s new goal of getting all lead out of centers’ drinking water. 

This year, schools also can access federal funds from the American Rescue Plan — with another $15 billion to remove lead-contaminated pipes and make other infrastructure upgrades coming to schools across the country if the federal infrastructure bill passes. 

CALPIRG State Director Jenn Engstrom summed it up.

“Schools and child care centers have a golden opportunity to remedy their lead risk by accessing state and federal funds to retrofit their plumbing and mitigate lead in school drinking water. Regardless of federal investment, here in California, AB 100 will make sure that when schools and childcare centers update their plumbing to address lead contamination, they can be sure the faucets and fixtures they buy will actually solve the problem,” Engstrom said.

staff | TPIN

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