Another plan to reduce lead contamination gets a hearing in House committee

A bill that could mandate installing lead-removing water filters in public schools was heard in the House Environment committee Monday afternoon

Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said he sponsored the bill to ensure children got safe drinking water at school.

“This bill proposes that we use the American Academy of Pediatricians recommended action level of one part per billion as a trigger level for two things,” he said at the hearing. “One: if we’re above that level, putting on National Sanitary Foundation-certified lead removal filters – which are not expensive. Or removing the water outlet from service if the school thinks that’s appropriate. And (secondly) notifying the parents, the teachers, the district and the school community of the level of lead that was found.”

Bruce Speight, executive director at WashSPIRG, a consumer interest lobbying group, testified in support of the bill.

“The most effective way to ensure lead free water for our children is to get the lead out. There’s no way around it,” he said

The only way to fully protect against lead contamination would be through fully removing lead-contaminated infrastructure, but this bill would function as a protection for folks in the meantime, he argued.

“This bill is an important step forward in the meantime, as we work to get lead out of our drinking water infrastructure to protect our kids,” he said.

But, the bill was met with opposition and criticism.

In 2016, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a lead directive and he included parts of that in his 2017 budget, allocating nearly $6 million to testing school water fixtures, and identifying children who are most at risk for elevated lead levels.

Casey Moore, director of School Facilities, with the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said he supported aspects of the bill and the sentiment behind it, but said he was concerned certain districts may not be able to keep up with the timeline, and that it could be redundant with parts of the lead mitigation plan proposed by Inslee.

“We are concerned that Bill 1925, as written, requires a timeline that may be unrealistic for all districts to meet,” he said at the hearing.

Michelle Davis, executive director for the Washington State Board of Health, opposed the bill because she argued it wouldn’t be the best strategy for reducing lead contamination.

“I understand where the sponsor is coming from, with regard to there being no safe level for lead in drinking water,” she said at the hearing. “We just want to make sure the schools are able to achieve or meet those levels when they test.”

She also argued water filters are an inadequate solution to the problem.

“The bill appears to mandate filters for all fixtures regardless of the water test results and we prefer to see the faulty fixtures replaced,” she said. “We recognize there’d be some benefit from the filters but if they’re not appropriately maintained they can create other health risks.”

Pollet reacted to the testimony on Twitter.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

 

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