Massachusetts needs to do a better job of protecting its children from lead-tainted water. That’s the bottom line finding of a new study from MASSPIRG Education Fund and Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center.
At a State House press conference today, leaders from both groups unveiled the third edition of the Get The Lead Out report, which gave Massachusetts a C- grade for its lack of a statewide requirement to prevent lead contamination of schools’ drinking water. Along with physicians, parent groups, lawmakers and others, MASSPIRG and Environment Massachusetts cited data from the report while calling for the passage of An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools, (S526 & H851) filed by State Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem) and State Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian.
“We know that lead is harmful to children’s learning, their IQ, their behaviors, and their growth and development,” said Alan Woolf, MD,MPH, Associate Chief Medical Education Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital & Medical Director of its Pediatric Environmental Health Center. “We should eliminate ALL background sources of their possible exposure to lead, including drinking water fountains and bubblers at daycare centers, preschools and schools. This bill is an important piece of an ongoing effort to do just that to protect the health of the children of Massachusetts.”
Lead contamination of water at Bay State schools is pervasive. According to data from the state Department of Environmental Protection, more than 80% of the 62,557 taps tested from 1,738 schools and child care centers across Massachusetts since 2016 tested positive for lead.
“While Massachusetts earned a C-, compared to a D in our last study from 2019, by taking incremental policy steps toward safer drinking water for kids at school,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s legislative director, “Massachusetts could move to the head of the class and earn an A, by passing the Act Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in Schools.”
“Parents and educators want and expect safe, healthy schools and childcare centers for our children and students to learn, grow and be productive. No parent wants to worry about drinking water containing lead because there is no safe level of lead for children,” said Massachusetts PTA, President Karen De Roche. “We must collectively protect and secure for them, clean drinking water; today, now in 2023.”
Most schools and preschools have fountains or faucets that contain lead, and wherever there is lead, there is a risk of water contamination.
“As a former public school teacher and mother to two school-aged sons, I am proud to have filed this legislation to promote the health and safety of students and teachers across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian (D-Melrose). “I’m glad to be working with Senator Lovely, MASSPIRG, Environment Massachusetts, the Massachusetts PTA and others to press for health-based standards that ensure safe water for students and educators in our schools and childcare centers.
“Massachusetts is a leader in public education on the cutting edge of student development and advancement. Despite these gains, many of our children attend school in older buildings, where outdated plumbing puts them at risk of lead ingestion. This cannot continue,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “That is why I am proud to partner with Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian and advocacy organizations from across our Commonwealth to file S.526/H.851. By ensuring that all schools and childcare centers test for lead and update their filtration systems, with funding support through the Clean Water Trust, we can mitigate children’s exposure to this dangerous toxin, which can cause debilitating and irreparable damage to their developing brains and bodies.”
While Massachusetts has no law requiring schools to prevent lead contamination of their water, its voluntary program is one of the few in the nation robust enough to avoid a failing grade in the groups’ report. All schools choosing to have their water tested agree to remediate any tap where lead levels exceed 1 ppb, and test results are available on line. In addition, the Commonwealth has also allocated $5 million to pay to install filtered water stations and other solutions.
A key measure required by An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools is installing water stations that have filters certified to remove lead. The stations remove one source of lead contamination (by replacing old fountains) and the filters capture lead coming from pipes or plumbing within school buildings. The bill is supported by many organizations including Clean Water Action, Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Public Health Association, Massachusetts PTA, Community Action Works, Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, MASSPIRG and Environment Massachusetts. Fact sheet on An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools
“Our analysis shows that most states are failing to make the grade when it comes to policies that protect kids from lead in school drinking water,” said John Rumpler, Environment Massachusetts and Clean Water for America Campaign. “But the good news is that our study also found that the pending bill in Massachusetts, An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools, will move Massachusetts to the head of the class.”
“A key public health milestone included banning lead in gasoline and in paint,” concluded Cummings, “It’s long past time for us to ‘get the lead out’ of our water delivery systems – especially where our kids go to learn and play each day.”