New Report Gives Pennsylvania “F” for response to lead in school drinking water

New legislative proposal would make PA protections some of nation’s strongest
For Immediate Release

[Harrisburg, PA] – PennEnvironment was joined today by a bipartisan group of state Representatives, including Rep. Karen Boback (R-Lackawanna) and Rep. Austin Davis (D-Allegheny) to release the organization's newest study on the threat posed by lead in drinking water in schools. PennEnvironment's new study gave the state an "F" for responding to lead in drinking water in the state's schools.

“Clean water is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is, in its most basic form, a constitutional issue,” said Rep. Boback. “Article 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution states, ‘The people have a right to clean air and pure water.’ When we turn open a faucet and fill a glass, or drink out of a drinking fountain,  we expect what comes out to be clean.”

In the second edition of PennEnvironment’s Get The Lead Out study, Pennsylvania showed poor progress, having failed to improve it’s rating since the organization’s initial study in 2017.  Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, the Pennsylvania Parent-Teacher Association, and a bipartisan group of legislators all joined PennEnvironment in calling for safe drinking water in Pennsylvania’s schools.

“Most parents would be shocked to know that the majority schools aren’t compelled to test their drinking water for lead, and that when schools DO test, best-practices aren’t always utilized, the ‘acceptable’ levels of lead used is too high to protect health, and the results of the tests are rarely shared with the community.” said Stephanie Wein, Clean Water Advocate for PennEnvironment. “Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and grow, but Pennsylvania is still failing  to protect our kids from lead in drinking water. “

“As a resident of McKeesport and State Representative for the Mon Valley, I know firsthand the concerns my neighbors feel when it comes to the high levels of lead in our communities,” added Davis. “We send children to school to learn – not to expose them to hazardous substances. It is more important now than ever that we take action and enact legislation that will require public and private schools to test their water flow yearly, so that we can ensure that our children are not being exposed to high levels of lead.”

As more Pennsylvania schools do test their water, they are finding lead, and sometimes at extremely high levels.  

For example, the LNP reported that some schools in  Lancaster County tested up to 500 times above levels where the state and federal governments recommend action being taken.

Despite this clear threat, PennEnvironment's study states that Pennsylvania law doesn't prevent children's drinking water from being laced with lead.  Schools in Pennsylvania are currently encouraged to test for lead, but can avoid testing by simply discussing their refusal to test at a public meeting.  Current law also:

  • Doesn’t require remediation levels to be taken

  • Uses a maximum allowable level lead of 15 parts per billion,  a standard rejected by the American Association of Pediatrics as far too high

  • Doesn’t require results of testing be shared directly with parents.

In PennEnvironment’s comparison of Pennsylvania with 31 other states, these shortcomings gave Pennsylvania a grade of  “F”.

"There are no safe levels of lead exposure,” said Dr. Kelly Kuhns, Chair and Associate Professor of Nursing at Millersville University.  “By preventing lead exposure, we can help our children get their best start in life. All children in the Commonwealth should have access to safe clean drinking water, especially in their schools where the spend such a significant part of their day."

Yet newly introduced legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly by state Representative Boback (House Bill 930) creates the tools to address these gaps by doing the following: 

  • Requiring annual testing of all water outlets used in schools for drinking and cooking, using the established best practices for testing;

  • Requiring all test results to be disclosed to parents;

  • Setting a statewide standard for lead in school water to 5 parts per billion, the same standard for lead in bottled water sold in the Commonwealth.

The measure has enjoyed bipartisan support, ending the 2017-2018 session with over 70 cosponsors in the state House. Parents and educators are especially eager to see the bill move.

"Our children often spend more time in school than at home, and safe drinking water is necessary to their well-being,” said Darlene Harris, a member of the Pennsylvania PTA Board of Manages. “That's why the Pennsylvania PTA supports careful monitoring of school drinking water, strict water quality standard  in our schools, and disclosure to parents about water quality.”

“We were disappointed to find that Pennsylvania’s efforts thus far are at the back of the class when it comes to protecting children from lead at school,” said Wein. “Our kids deserve better.”

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PennEnvironment is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.