Get the Lead Out Budget Testimony
Senator Michael Rodrigues, Chair
Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Chair
Members of the Joint Committees on Ways and Means
FR: Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director, MASSPIRG,
Emma Dietz, Clean Water Program, Environment Massachusetts
Sylvia Broude, Executive Director, Toxics Action Center
Maureo Fernandez y Mora, Clean Water Action
RE: Getting the Lead Out of Drinking Water at Schools and Childcare Centers, HB1
Thank you for allowing us to testify today on the Governor’s proposed budget.
We are here to speak in strong support of providing resources to schools for eliminating lead in their drinking water, a pervasive health threat that is affecting children across the Commonwealth. There are two sections in House 1 that together, could provide up to $30 million to help schools get the lead out and protect our children’s health. Specifically, these are outside Section 62, which adds $20 million to the Water Pollution Abatement Revolving Fund based on revenue generated from a change in the collection of sales taxes as outlined in Section 26; and Section 58, which broadens the scope of an already approved 2018 Water Abatement State Revolving Fund.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin that impairs how our children develop, learn and behave. Yet, according to the lead testing data from the Department of Environmental Protection, more than half of the 43,000 taps tested from 980 schools across Massachusetts since 2016 were found to have lead in the water. The vast majority of those lead levels were in concentrations greater than the 1 part per billion (ppb) limit for lead recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Last week, MASSPIRG and Environment Massachusetts released their Get the Lead Out report, which graded 32 states’ policies for addressing lead in school drinking water. Unfortunately, Massachusetts received a D. This poor grade was earned because, while Massachusetts has a free, voluntary testing program and a transparent website that discloses detailed test results, there are currently no mandatory testing, prevention, or remediation requirements for lead in drinking water at schools and child-care centers. Moreover, the money presently administered to schools is used only for testing – not for remediation. What this testing program has shown us is that lead contamination of schools’ water is pervasive across the Commonwealth. Most schools and pre-schools have water fountains or faucets that contain lead. And wherever there is lead, there is a risk of water contamination.
Addressing this contamination is especially pressing since children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning and other health problems related to lead exposure, with physical and behavioral effects having been shown to occur at lower exposure levels in children. Further, there is no treatment to ameliorate the permanent developmental effects of lead toxicity according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention is by far the most efficient and cost-effective means of treatment.
To ensure safe drinking water for our children in school, we must take immediate steps to “get the lead out” by replacing old water fountains and faucets, and installing filters certified to remove lead on every outlet used for drinking and cooking. Some cities and towns have already taken proactive steps to address this health threat. For example, the Brockton school district replaced its old water fountains with filtered water bottle filling stations and, after testing showed lead in the water, replaced faucets with new certified lead-free models.
But not every district will do this unless required to do so. Providing resources will prioritize the issue and encourage schools to take proactive action without delay. Establishing a fund to help schools get the lead out will have a massive impact on protecting the health and safety of our children by ensuring access to safe drinking water. Money is needed for prevention and remediation. While the total cost of remediation is unknown and varies significantly, we do know that using filters certified to remove lead can be affordable. For example, our estimate of the cost to purchase filtered hydration stations equipped with bottle fillers and water fountains, as well as point-of-use filters for other outlets used for drinking and cooking at every school and day care center in Massachusetts is approximately $20 million. This estimate is based on retail prices and does not include installation and maintenance costs. Installing such filters is a first key step to get the lead out of our children’s water, and will have an immediate beneficial impact on our children’s health.
The good news is that our leadership has taken the initial steps towards getting the lead out of our schools, both with money proposed in the budget and with a very strong bill filed by Senator Lovely S.500, Representative Ehrlich H.774 and a bipartisan group of 79 cosponsors. Now we need to ensure that these steps are followed through.
It is imperative that schools are provided with the resources necessary to protect students from exposure to lead in drinking water, in the amount of at least $20 million, to ensure a down payment on eliminating exposure to lead. Such funding can come from the provisions outlined in House 1, or through the establishment of a trust as outlined in H.774/S.500.
We know the health and safety of our children is priceless. Time and time again, Massachusetts has been a leader in protecting our children’s health and safety. We are here today to urge you to extend that leadership once again and make getting the lead out of our schools’ water a priority in your budget.
Cost estimate on water filling stations and filters.
Letter signed by over 100 health professionals urging Governor Baker to support funding to prevent lead in school drinking water.
Get the Lead Out report