Bill would force CA schools to test drinking water for lead

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Most schools in California are not required to test their drinking water for lead, but a bill in the State Assembly would make testing mandatory.

The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, was a "wake up call," said the bill's author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego).

"We’ve had this mentality of putting our heads in the sand and not really asking the questions we need to ask," she said.

AB 746 would also require schools to shut off any source of drinking water found to exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards, and to inform staff and parents about the potential exposure. 

There is no safe level of lead exposure, according to the EPA. Even low levels of lead in young children's blood can cause learning and behavior issues, hyperactivity and decreased IQ.  

Since mid-January, California schools can request a free test of their drinking water. Nearly 500 schools statewide have submitted requests for water sampling so far, according to a spokesman for the State Water Resources Control Board.

Gonzalez Fletcher said a lot of schools may be reluctant to request testing because dealing with lead contamination can be costly. Her bill does not address the issue of how to pay for replacing contaminated water sources.

"I think we’re going to open up a Pandora’s box of problems and we’re going to have to address that next," she said.

The LAUSD is not yet in support of AB 746, "but we are in agreement with many of the provisions because they're consistent with many of our policies," said Eric Bakke, co-director of the District's Office of Government Relations.

Gonzalez Fletcher's bill is not the only one seeking to address lead in school drinking water. AB 885 initially required most schools to install water filters before they were tested for lead, something that drew opposition from some school officials. Bakke called the bill's approach "backwards."

On Wednesday, the bill's author, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), said she would accept an amendment to require water to be tested first, but the bill stalled in the Assembly Education Committee.

LAUSD has been working for several years to test and replace drinking fountains with elevated levels of lead. Bakke said that LAUSD had taken an "aggressive" approach to testing and dealing with lead contamination.

For decades, LAUSD schools have had a policy of running drinking fountains and other water sources for 30 seconds every day to flush out any lead. For the past year, L.A. Unified has been reviewing the results of 2008 drinking water tests. As it works through those tests, the District has been working to replace contaminated fountains and other sources with the eventual aim of ending the flushing. Nearly 500 campuses have stopped flushing their fountains and staff have nearly 400 more campuses to check, said Robert Laughton, Director of LAUSD's Office of Environmental Health and Safety.