Bill Memo: Getting the Lead Out of Schools

Substantial benefit rating

Summary

The bill amends Section 1110 of the Public Health Law to expand potable water testing in schools.

Explanation

This legislation strengthens testing requirements for lead in school drinking water. With young children at highest risk of life-long damage from this neurotoxin, New York must take steps to ensure its schools are lead-free.

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. The growing bodies and developing organs of children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure. Even low levels of lead in children can cause neurological damage, impaired hearing, slowed growth, and anemia.

This legislation builds on New York’s nation-leading efforts to reduce lead in drinking water. In 2016, the Legislature required public schools to test their tap water for lead and take action if elevated levels were discovered. A 2018 analysis of the statewide testing data revealed the shocking prevalence of lead in drinking water: around 82 percent of school buildings reported one or more taps that tested above the state lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

This bill reduces the lead action level from 15 ppb to 5 ppb, which will ensure that more water taps contaminated with lead are remediated. This is an important improvement given that more than 62,000 school drinking water outlets, or over 15% of the outlets tested in 2016, tested between 5 ppb – 14.9 ppb, according to an analysis by the New York League of Conservation Voters. Illinois has set a school lead action level of 5 ppb, and Vermont’s action level is 4 ppb.

Other improvements that this bill will make to New York’s school testing program include increasing testing frequency to once a year rather than once every five years, promoting transparency by requiring actual lab reports to be posted on the schools’ websites, and eliminating exemptions from testing.

Environmental Advocates NY Bill Rating: Substantial Benefit

Memo #: 21