Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in Colorado Schools

With a 12-1 vote yesterday, the House Education Committee approved a bill by Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Tony Exum Sr. to support testing for lead in public school drinking water.

“Drinking water is vital for our children,” said Rep. Exum, D-Colorado Springs. “Lead exposure can have damaging impacts, including hearing impairment, reduction in attention span and nervous system problems. It is important for the health and safety of our students to be able to detect lead — only then can we move forward to remove it.”

HB17-1306 authorizes the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to establish a grant program to test for lead in drinking water in public schools. The voluntary grant program would provide 90 percent of the funding and the receiving school district would contribute the remaining 10 percent of the cost. Priority would be given to the oldest elementary schools, because they’re more likely to have lead pipes.

According to Barbara McLachlan:

“Lead can seriously change the trajectory of a child’s life. Studies show that lead is never safe in a child’s body. Exposure can seriously affect a child’s IQ, attention span and create numerous other physical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

“Using money in the existing Water Quality Improvement Fund, our bill provides funding for testing lead pipes and fixtures in old public elementary schools. Older buildings will be tested first, followed by newer schools. Rep. Exum and I want to make sure Colorado’s kids aren’t being exposed to such a dangerous chemical while at school.

“Lead contamination is a serious issue in old buildings with lead service lines, pipes and fittings, which can leak into water supplies. This happens often in schools because the buildings have long periods without water use, such as holidays, summers, weekends and overnight, when the water has longer contact with the plumbing. Worse, many Colorado schools have not been updated since 1991, when lead was banned in any new plumbing installed in buildings.

“The lead testing would be optional; no school district would be required to participate. Funding would cover 90 percent of the testing, with schools contributing the final 10 percent. Stakeholders agreed districts should pay a portion of the cost so they are both emotionally and fiscally invested in the process. Many districts want to test their faucets and service lines, but have not been able to find the funding.

“Once we know the extent of the problem, we will know how to respond.

State Representative Barbara McLachlan.

“We are supported by many organizations, including Children’s Hospital and the Colorado Rural School Alliance. This bill will particularly help smaller districts struggling to pay for this testing. Many larger districts, such as Denver, Jefferson County and Aurora, have already paid for their testing. Their results reveal that about five percent of the faucets in their schools are contaminated.

“Children should expect to have clean and ample water at their school drinking fountains. Anything less is unacceptable. We have heard about the tragic situation in Flint, Michigan, where students consumed contaminated water for months; we are all worried about the harmful long-term effects on those children.”

Yesterday’s 12-1 vote sends the bill to the House Appropriations Committee.

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