Bill updates the Safe School Drinking Water Act with stronger standards
Albany, NY – A coalition of advocates today celebrated that Governor Kathy Hochul signed the unanimously approved legislation S. 2122-A/A. 160-B (Rivera/Gottfried), that will get more lead out of public school drinking water.
The legislation will strengthen the current lead poisoning prevention law, the Safe School Drinking Water Act, by reducing the action level to 5 ppb. While there is no safe level of lead exposure, the new state law would provide the most stringent protection for the largest population of students in the country, getting New York closer to the 1 ppb action level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also increases testing frequency to test triennially (every 3-years) instead of the current frequency of five years, removes certain exemptions from testing, and ensures water at no cost to the school communities when drinking water outlets are taken out of service for repair.
Additionally, the cost of testing and remediation to school districts will be fully covered by state and federal funding, and laboratory reports will be posted online to improve transparency, reducing the need to file Freedom of Information Law requests for the data.
Health, environmental, environmental justice, educational, and worker advocate organizations that supported this bill included: Children’s Defense Fund – NYC, Citizen Action New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Citizens Committee for Children of New York, Clean & Healthy NY, Earthjustice, Environmental Advocates of New York, Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition, Healthy Schools Network, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, JustGreen Partnership, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp, NRDC, NYC Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, NYS Parent Teachers Association (PTA), New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), PUSH Buffalo, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, WEACT, and Women’s Voices for the Earth.
Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “New York is leading the nation as the largest state with the lowest, most protective, action level. This bill is a vital step forward to make our learning environments safer from pollution and help ensure that school communities have access to cleaner, safer drinking water. NYLCV thanks Governor Hochul for showing bold leadership by enacting the tougher standards on lead in school drinking water to protect students, teachers and all in our school systems. ”
“We’re grateful to Governor Hochul for signing this bill because kids deserve clean, healthy water to drink in their schools, and this legislation is the pathway to get there,” said Joan Leary Matthews, Interim Senior Director for Water Initiatives at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “This bill matters for New York State’s children because it lowers the lead action level to be significantly closer to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended limit.”
“We thank New York State Governor Kathy Hochul for signing the Lead in School Drinking Water bill into law, reducing one source of potential lead exposure for millions of children across the state. Children are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead, which can impair their development and lead to permanent health issues. New York State has the worst lead crisis out of the United States, and according to numerous studies, Black/African American children in New York are most likely to have highly elevated blood-lead levels,” said Sonal Jessel, M.P.H., Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “It is time to take bold steps on protecting New York’s children by eliminating every source of exposure to lead. Children deserve to learn in a healthy environment, not to be put at risk of toxic exposure that hurts them for a lifetime. Thank you to New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera and New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried for sponsoring this bill, and thank you to all of the advocates who have worked tirelessly to protect our future generations from lead poisoning.”
“Pediatricians across the state applaud the Governor for signing the Safe Drinking Water in Schools Act,” said Dr. Warren Seigel, MD, MBA, FAAP, Chair of NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, District II. “As pediatricians, we know that there is no safe level of lead for children. We also know that schools must provide safe environments for all children. Implementation of this legislation which will reduce the current lead level from an unacceptable 15ppb to 5 ppb and require the public posting of the results on lead testing in all schools is a giant step forward toward securing a safer lead-free school environment for all children.” he added.
“Addressing lead in school drinking water is a critical part of ensuring that every child has access to safe, healthy schools,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said. “With her signature, Gov. Hochul is showing New York state’s commitment to creating healthy environments for every student and school staff member. We applaud the governor and the Legislature for taking the action needed to ensure there is safe, clean water for all in our schools.”
Claire L. Barnett, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network which co-led the statewide coalition said, “We are thrilled to see the Safe Drinking Water Act passed and signed into law by Governor Hochul. With an action level set at 5 PPB, more frequent testing, and posting of test results by local schools, New York is reclaiming its national leadership on this issue. We are thrilled that there are federal and state funds that are available to offset the costs. This is an unprecedented win for kids and for our schools. But there is more to do: there is no such thing as a lead-free school – yet.”
Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water at Environmental Advocates NY said, “By strengthening testing requirements for lead in school drinking water, Governor Hochul is demonstrating her commitment to keeping children safe from dangerous, toxic lead exposure. We applaud bill sponsors Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried and Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera for championing this legislation. We are confident that it will prevent countless children from being poisoned by this harmful neurotoxin.”
“This new law gives New York stronger protections for our children from lead in drinking water in their schools,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York. “We thank Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera for their advocacy to increase testing, inspections, and providing for training to prevent the devastating and too often hidden harms of lead poisoning lurking in many of our schools.”
“Today is a great day for children,” offered NYS PTA President Dana Platin. “We are so thankful to the legislature and Governor Hochul for this critical important legislation. Access to clean and safe water, especially in our schools, is of highest priority for NYS PTA. This law reflects the work of many in the environmental and education community, and together we will continue to work to ensure our children are free from harmful lead in all places.”
“NYS PTA is grateful to the many advocates, legislators and staff who worked to make this passage happen,” offered Kyle Belokopitsky, NYS PTA Executive Director. “What we know: there is no more important work than child health and wellness and there is NO safe level of lead exposure for children. This law is a giant step forward in the work to protect children, as we must ensure that our schools remain the safest place for our students to learn and thrive.”
“As the coleader of the Lead Free Kids New York coalition, the Children’s Defense Fund – New York celebrates the signing of the Lead in School Drinking Water bill,” said Kercena A. Dozier, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund – New York. “There is simply no safe level of lead in our children. Schools should foster healthy brain development in our youth, not permanently harm them through preventable exposure to a toxin as dangerous as lead. By making our State’s school drinking water safer, this legislation holds the promise to protect many of the youngest New Yorkers from the harmful effects of lead – particularly our Black and Brown children, who are disparately affected by childhood lead exposure and poisoning in New York State.”
In 2016, New York became the first state to require all public schools to test for and remediate lead in drinking water with levels above 15 ppb when it passed the Safe School Drinking Water Act. Since 2016, several states such as Washington, Maryland, Montana, Illinois, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have reduced their action levels to 5 ppb or less. Several other states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are actively considering lowering their action levels below 15 ppb.
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