We thank Delegate Lafferty for introducing HB270 and request a favorable report. Our children need safe drinking water – especially at school where they go to learn and play each day. Unfortunately, lead is contaminating drinking water at schools in Maryland and across the country.
This bill requires testing for lead in drinking water in Maryland public and private schools. It also calls for immediate shut off of outlets with elevated lead and remediation measures to permanently remove lead. While we support this bill, we would recommend removing the exemption for certified lead-free schools because of the possibility of contamination from lead service lines or the water source.
All too often, schools (like homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water. In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. And where there is lead, there is a risk of contamination and exposure.
In Maryland, some schools districts have or do test for lead, but the testing in not required nor are remediation steps or other protocol.
- In Baltimore City, schools have been using bottled water since 2007. The city has a plan to build lead free schools.
- Some Harford County Schools have also had students on bottled water since 2009.
- In October, a Prince George’s elementary school shut off water after tests found elevated levels of lead.
Since the water crisis in Flint, several states have enacted or updated testing guidelines for schools. As more states have required schools test their water, they are finding lead. For example:
- In Massachusetts nearly half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school.
- In NYC after updating their testing protocol last year they have already found nine times as many taps with lead above 15 pbb, and have only tested 1/3 of the taps.
The health threat of lead in schools’ water deserves immediate attention from state policymakers for two reasons. First, lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children — impairing how they learn, grow, and behave. So, we ought to be par¬ticularly vigilant against this health threat at schools and pre-schools, where our children spend their days learning and playing.
Second, current regulations are too weak to pro¬tect our children from lead-laden water at school. Federal rules only apply to the roughly ten percent of schools and pre-schools that provide their own water. Maryland needs testing and remediation requirements.
Given the high toxicity of lead to children, the most health-protective policy is simply to “get the lead out” of our schools and pre-schools. This involves removing lead-bearing parts from schools’ drinking water systems — from service lines to faucets and fixtures.
Because all this prevention work will take time to complete, schools should immediately begin regular and proper testing of all water outlets used for drinking or cooking and promptly remove from service those outlets where elevated lead levels are detected. And schools should provide the public with easy access to testing data and the status of remediation plans.
The promise and viability of this “get the lead out” approach can be seen in municipal and voluntary programs across the country. Madison, Wisconsin and Lansing, Michigan have removed all lead service lines from homes, and New York City has replaced them at schools. Yes, this will cost money.
In December, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin helped pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 which includes $100 million for school and child care lead testing, and an investment of $300 million over five years in grant funding for the replacement of lead service pipes, testing, planning, corrosion control and education. It is our hope that some of that money can fund testing and remediation in Maryland.
On Monday, Maryland PIRG released a new report on lead in schools’ water. We strongly recommend you pass this bill. Our report offers further recommendations for policy such as making publicly available all lead tests showing lead, not just those with elevated result, and we would be happy to pursue those with Delegate Lafferty and the committee in future years.
Undoing this toxic legacy throughout all of our communities will take time. But we can and should act now to protect our schools– the places where our children go each day to learn and play.
We respectfully request a favorable report on HB270.
State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG
Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Emily has helped win small donor public financing in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County. She has played a key role in establishing new state laws to to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms, require testing for lead in school drinking water and restrict the use of toxic flame retardant and PFAS chemicals. Emily also serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition and the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working. Emily lives in Baltimore City with her husband, kids, and dog.