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John Rumpler,
Environment Washington

New State Provision Addresses Lead in School Drinking Water

For Immediate Release

Seattle, WA—Today, Environment Washington and WashPIRG hailed a new provision in the state’s budget that directs the Department of Health (DOH) to develop guidance for schools to take action whenever lead in water exceeds 1 part per billion.

“There is no safe level of lead for our children,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington and WashPIRG Director. “This measure brings us one step closer to ensuring safe drinking water for Washington’s children.”

With mounting evidence that lead affects children’s health even at very low levels, this year Environment Washington and WashPIRG launched their “Get the Lead Out” campaign to end lead contamination in schools’ drinking water. The groups issued a research report, mobilized grassroots support statewide, and worked with state legislators to make the case for requiring the removal of lead-based infrastructure and for requiring action whenever lead in schools’ water exceeds 1 part per billion, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A broad coalition of organizations, including RE-Sources, Toxic-Free Future, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Earth Ministry, Spokane Riverkeeper, OneAmerica, WA Environmental Council, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, WA Physicians for Social Responsibility, The Lands Council, Future Wise, Zero Waste Washington, Sierra Club Washington, and Progresso-Latino Community Fund, came together to support the provision.

“School water should not be a cause of lower IQ and learning disabilities,” said State Representative Gerry Pollet, who championed the budget provision. “This is particularly important for lower income students whose homes may also have elevated lead. I am pleased with the progress we have made and will keep working to ensure students are safe and healthy.”

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin and children are particularly susceptible. Even low levels of lead exposure can lead to irreversible damage. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, low levels of lead can result in behavioral and learning deficiency, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia.

Unfortunately, lead contamination in Washington Schools is a very real problem. Two of the state’s three largest school districts – Seattle and Tacoma – have found lead in the water at some of their schools. A KUOW story from 2016 highlighted lead in 34 state water systems, including 5 schools.

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 proactively removing lead-bearing parts from schools’ drinking water systems — from service lines to faucets and fixtures — and installing filters certified to remove lead at every tap used for drinking or cooking.

“Parents all over Washington State are rightfully concerned and will be glad to hear that the state is taking steps to reduce the amount of lead in school drinking water. Yet, we can’t rest until we have eliminated lead infrastructure from schools and adopted a 1 part per billion standard for lead statewide,” concluded Speight.

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Environment Washington is a statewide, membership-based environmental advocacy organization that works for clean air, clean water and open spaces. www.environmentwashington.org. WashPIRG is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization that stands up to powerful special interests. www.washpirg.org.