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California Legislature passes bill to eliminate lead from school drinking water

  • California Legislature passes bill to eliminate lead from school drinking water

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The California Legislature passed a bill to require lead tests at all school drinking water fountains and faucets. The bill also sets a goal of reducing lead levels in school drinking water to zero.

The tests cover all fountains and faucets that have not already been tested and replaced. The fountains and faucets are used by kindergarten through 12th grade students at state Title 1 schools built before 2010. 

Assembly Bill 249, authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), will help protect California children from lead’s serious and long-term health harms. The Environmental Working Group and Children Now, an advocacy organization focused on children’s health, are co-sponsors of the bill.

If signed into law, the bill would set a legal goal of reducing school lead levels to zero. If lead is detected at schools above 5 parts per billion, A.B. 249 will require that the contamination be addressed. A state allocation of $25 million would pay for the tests and cleanup.

“Lead is a serious neurotoxin that can permanently affect children’s development, and there is no safe level of lead,” said Susan Little, EWG senior advocate for California government affairs. “The science is clear – we already know about lead’s hazards. So we should do all that we can to protect the children in our state

The California Legislature passed a bill to require lead tests at all school drinking water fountains and faucets

“We’re encouraged that the bill has passed, but we know that now is when the real work begins,” she added.

The bill faced fierce opposition from state water utilities and school administrators, who fought to weaken or stall the health protective measure.

Groups including the California Municipal Utilities Association, which represents publicly owned water districts, lobbied state legislators to undermine the bill’s testing and remediation goals. At the same time, those groups claimed their priority was to deliver safe and reliable water to their customers.

Despite these last-ditch lobbying efforts, the bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his expected signature.

“Every Californian deserves to know the truth about possible lead contamination in their drinking water. And protecting young people in our state, who are the most vulnerable to the damaging effects of lead exposure, should be our top priority,” said Holden. 

Holden has long championed safe drinking water. In 2018, legislation he authored went into effect that required licensed child care centers in the state to test their tap water for lead contamination.

Results of those tests revealed alarming levels of lead. Nearly 1,700 licensed child care centers statewide – one in four – have exceeded the amount of allowable lead in drinking water provided daily to preschool-age children and infants. Some centers’ lead levels were up to 2,200 times over the allowable amount.

“Lead exposure is a health, education and racial justice issue for our kids,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a statewide children’s advocacy organization.

“We thank Assemblymember Holden for shepherding A.B. 249 through the Legislature to protect students from lead in drinking water, and we urge the governor to sign the bill to ensure that $25 million already set aside in the budget is used to give schools the resources they need to keep kids and educators safe,” said Lempert.

With the passage of A.B. 249, the state is one step closer to detecting lead contamination at schools and cleaning it up, which will safeguard children in California. 

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