EDITORIAL: Tougher regulations, testing for lead in school drinking water supplies are welcome

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You’d think with all we know about the specific dangers to children of lead in the water supply that it would no longer be an issue.

But despite what we know and despite the changes we’ve made in the last 40 years, lead continues to be a threat to public health, especially to children.

So it’s vital that New York remain diligent in its efforts to test for lead, to provide funding to fix to aging systems and to keep the public better informed.

Headed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature this month is a bill that would help accomplish all of those goals in the place children are likely to be exposed to lead — in their schools.

The bill, A0160/S2122A, would lower the threshold for action on lead contamination from 0.015 milligrams per liter to 0.005 milligrams, which makes New York’s level among the most stringent in the nation.

Still no level is deemed safe for children, who even when exposed to low levels of lead can suffer from behavioral issues, learning disabilities, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia and even seizures, coma and death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the standard be lowered to 0.001 milligrams. Regardless, the change in tolerance level is welcome, in that it will more quickly trigger action to remove even relatively low levels of lead contamination.

The also would increase the frequency of lead testing in schools from the vague “random” testing to every three years.

The law goes further, in that it eliminates exemptions from testing for schools previously deemed “lead free” under archaic standards allowing a certain percentage of plumbing material to contain lead.

For public transparency purposes, the bill requires that districts post on the district website the results of all testing, including laboratory reports, along with plans for addressing the contamination. Districts also must immediately notify the state and the county health department of results and must contact parents.

Repairs to remove lead can be costly for school districts and their taxpayers.

This bill ensures that districts receive full reimbursement for repairs from clean water infrastructure funding administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Given the well-known dangers of lead to children’s health, it’s actually kind of abhorrent that the Legislature took this long to require more frequent testing, more stringent standards and more transparency.

Better late than never is never good enough when it comes to protecting the public’s health.

Gov. Cuomo should sign this bill as soon as it crosses his desk.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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