A new bill would appropriate $8 million in non-recurring funds for public schools and some day cares to test for lead in their drinking water, as well as providing alternate water supplies for buildings that exceed federal action levels for the chemical.
House Bill 386 would require all public schools, including public charters, and those day cares located in commercial buildings to test for lead in water used for drinking, including fountains and drink stations.
Schools and day cares where lead levels are 5 parts per billion or higher — the federal action level for drinking water — would then have to immediately shut off fixtures where the elevated concentrations were detected. In addition, the bill lays out requirements for public notification — no more than 48 hours to all parents, faculty and staff in the affected school, as well as those governing alternate water supplies.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can harm the central nervous system, particularly in children, whose brains are developing. Chronic exposure to elevated lead levels can lower IQ, cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, nerve damage and possibly Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, according to the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health.
Last year, two school districts in North Carolina reported elevated lead levels at some of their facilities. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, 27 schools tested above the action level.
In Guilford County, three schools — Allen Jay Elementary, Frazier Elementary and Southeast Guilford Middle — all had lead in drinking water above the EPA’s action level for schools: 20 ppb. HB 386 would require schools and daycares to adhere to a more stringent federal standard set for drinking water.
The district did replace the plumbing responsible for the lead but waited four months to notify principals and parents of the findings.
Elevated lead levels are often the result of old plumbing, which has leached the chemical into drinking water. Aging schools and commercial buildings that haven’t been renovated can be affected.
Data on the age of North Carolina public schools wasn’t immediate available, but the National Center for Education Statistics reported that about a third of all public schools in the US had plumbing systems in their permanent buildings that were rated either fair or poor.
The bill establishes water testing deadlines for schools, depending on the age of the building and when the plumbing had last (or ever) been completely removed and replaced. Schools whose plumbing is new or has been renovated after Dec. 31, 1990, are exempt, as are schools that already monitor for lead.
Schools constructed on or before Dec. 31, 1960, must test by June 30, 2021. Those constructed between Jan. 1, 1961, and Dec. 31, 1990, must test by June 30, 2022.
The $8 million appropriation would provide matching funds for districts based on need.