Scott signs bill requiring lead testing in schools, child care facilities

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Gov. Phil Scott has signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, requiring testing of drinking water for lead in all school districts, supervisory unions, independent schools and child care providers in the state.

"I'm proud to have been a lead sponsor of this bill," Campion said when reached Monday afternoon. "I'm particularly proud that as of today, Vermont schoolchildren and members of the education community have a clear path toward safer and cleaner drinking water."

Now school communities across the state will know what they are drinking, and that a plan is in place if elevated levels of lead are found, he said.

"We live in a community where we are concerned about drinking water," Campion said. "I believe this is the strongest bill in the United States right now for testing and remediation."

Besides testing, S.40, "An act relating to testing and remediation of lead in the drinking water of schools and child care facilities," also requires remediation when results are found to be at or above the action level of 4 parts per billion.

Testing will be paid for by the state; the bill authorized $2.8 million in appropriations to fund testing, retesting and replacement of drinking water fixtures as needed.

Under this testing program, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union has until the end of this month to complete a tap inventory and online survey — essentially an online order form to tell the health department how many water test kits each school will need.

When reached Monday, Derek Carson, public information coordinator for the SVSU, confirmed that the supervisory union must complete the required work by Friday, June 28 at 4 p.m.

Analyses of samples will be conducted by the Vermont Department of Health, or a certified laboratory under contract with the department.

Work has been delegated to maintenance staff at individual schools, Carson said.

Carson said the SVSU does not expect to find lead in its schools, as the SU tested schools in the Bennington School District in March and did not find anything. He said he was not aware of how extensive those tests were.

"The science, as it's understood right now, is there's no amount of lead that's safe for children," he said. "From our end, we're just happy to comply. Obviously we don't want any chance of our students ingesting lead in our schools."

The new law officially puts into place a full-scale testing project that builds on a 2017 pilot program among schools to test their drinking water for lead at each tap used for drinking or cooking, and to take actions as needed to reduce lead levels, according to a press release from the governor's office.

"This law will help identify where fixes are needed and provide both financial and technical assistance," Scott said in the release. "We learned from the pilot that most fixes can be done relatively quickly and at a reasonable cost."

The project will involve testing the drinking water taps at the state's nearly 425 public and independent schools and approximately 1,200 child care facilities, of which over 300 operate in school buildings, according to a press release from the governor's office.

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S.40 requires initial testing with first-draw and second flush samples from each outlet be collected on or before December 31, 2020. At least five days before sampling, the institution must notify all staff and student parents or guardians of the sampling, the testing requirements and the potential health effects from exposure to lead in drinking water.

They must also provide information about how they will give notice of the test results and how they will respond to results that are at or above the action level of 4 ppb.

The law also requires particular steps if action level or higher results are found. Namely, the institution must conduct remediation to eliminate or reduce lead levels. This must include prohibiting use of the outlet in question and notifying all staff and parents or guardians of students directly of the test results and the proposed or taken remedial action within 10 days of receipt of the laboratory report.

Testing will also continue beyond this initial round.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, each school district, supervisory union, independent school or child care provider in the state must sample each outlet in each building or facility it owns, controls or operates for lead.

The testing project is being coordinated by the health department in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Agency of Education and the Child Development Division of the Department for Children and Families, according to the release.

Many Vermont schools and child care facilities are in older buildings, which means they are more likely to have lead in their plumbing. While a major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children is pre-1978 paint, lead in plumbing and fixtures can add to a child's overall lead exposure, according to the release.

Lead exposure is a particular risk for children because they absorb lead into their systems more quickly than adults. Lead exposure can slow growth, impair development and learning and cause behavior problems.

2018 Testing Results

A 2017 pilot state testing project of water taps in 16 Vermont schools found lead levels above the federal standard in five schools and lower levels in others. The sources of the lead are believed to be aging fixtures and interior piping, as public water systems already are tested.

The public systems providing water to Vermont's approximately 400 schools are tested for lead and other possible contaminants, but the pilot testing targeted water from individual taps at the 16 Vermont schools, the Banner previously reported.

In the pilot testing, water from nearly 900 taps was tested. Lead greater than 1 ppb was detected in at least three taps at all of the schools. Elevated levels of 15 ppb or higher was found in one or more taps at five of the 16 schools. Those taps were removed from service and remediation options were considered.

In testing among Southern Vermont schools, 75 water samples were taken from a total of 40 taps at Bennington Elementary School. Of those, 71 samples were at or less than 1 ppb of lead, while four samples were greater than 1 ppb but less than 15 ppb.

At the Academy School in Brattleboro, 82 water samples were taken from 49 taps. Of those, 61 samples were at or below 1 ppb, 20 were between 1 ppb and 15 ppb, while one sample was above 15 ppb, the Banner previously reported.

When standing water in the taps was flushed out beforehand in a separate sampling, all 36 samples from Benn El taps and all 33 taken from Academy School taps had 1 ppb or less of lead.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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