Philadelphia City Council passes one of the strongest local protections from lead in school drinking water in the nation

Media Contacts
Emma Horst-Martz

Advocate, PennPIRG Education Fund

PHILADELPHIA — By a unanimous vote, the Philadelphia City Council passed legislation Thursday requiring the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) to replace all of its old drinking fountains with lead-filtering hydration stations by 2025. Bill 220221, sponsored by Councilmember Helen Gym and cosponsored by 8 members, also will require one of those lead-filtering fountains per every 100 students. 

Only three other cities or school districts in the country have passed a similar law. This victory for Philadelphia’s families comes after a yearlong campaign by PennEnvironment, PennPIRG, the Black Church Center for Justice and Equity and the American Heart Association calling on the school district to address its lead crisis. 

“In 2022, it’s not too much to ask that schoolchildren have drinking water that is entirely lead free – in fact, it should be essential,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “I am honored to have worked alongside PennPIRG and PennEnvironment on this legislation and campaign since 2016. The campaign for clean, safe, and lead free water has not only resulted in a swift victory, but also kickstarted a billion dollar school modernization efforts for the first time in decades. We will continue to organize with school communities across this city, fighting for healthy learning environments for every student.”

The school district has proposed $6.2 million in its 2022-2023 budget to finish installing the new water fountains by 2025. District officials have said that this funding will cover the additional 800 filtered water fountains needed across the district to total 2,100 modern hydration stations in SDP schools.

“This new law will go a long way toward protecting more than 200,000 school children across Philadelphia from the threat of lead contamination in one of the places where they spend much of their waking hours — our school buildings,” said David Masur, Executive Director of PennEnvironment. 

The bill was introduced following a report released by the PennPIRG Education Fund and the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, which showed that 98% of public schools in Philadelphia tested since 2018 had some level of lead in the water, and over 60% of all water outlets tested positive for lead. 

“With the passage of bill 220221, Philadelphia becomes a leader in protecting kids from lead in their school drinking water,” said Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Advocate. “Rather than testing and remediating already contaminated drinking fountains, the new, lead-filtering fountains will prevent kids from being exposed to lead in the first place.”

PennPIRG, PennEnvironment and the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality launched their campaign in June 2021, calling on SDP to address the lead crisis that has plagued schools for decades. The groups called for the school district to allocate approximately 0.5% of the $1.1 billion in federal COVID-19 pandemic stimulus funds to replace the old water fountains with lead filtering hydration stations. 

“This win, in this new law, is going to make huge strides towards protecting the children in their schools all across Philadelphia and will guarantee that schools remain the safe spaces—sanctuaries—that they deserve and we have a moral duty to provide,” said Pastor Willie Francois, President of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. 

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