NC bill would require testing for lead in water at schools

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Lead can be one of the most dangerous contaminants in your drinking water.

In May our investigates team requested records from the state and found out there have been more than 6,000 individual cases where lead in water exceeded federal limits. Those records date back to 2005 and are only the ones that the state knows about.

Of those 6,000 cases, dozens involved schools and daycare centers. Now state lawmakers have introduced a new bill that would require mandatory testing at those sites.

“A lot of states are talking about doing this right now, but we would be the first state to actually have a full blown school and childcare lead testing program in place in the United States,” said Tom Reeder, Asst. Sec. of the Environment for the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality.

Sponsors of House Bill 1074 say municipalities are already required to conduct lead testing, and while schools are grouped into those results, the sample is random. They now want to take a closer look at what children in schools are being exposed to.

“I think it’s incumbent on the state and the county health systems to ensure that our children as we educate them, are in safe environments and their drinking water I think has got to be paramount,” said Rep. Charles Jeter, a bill sponsor.

The bill would only apply to schools and childcare facilities built before 1987. That was the year when lead was outlawed for use in water pipes.

“Anything built after that is pretty well guaranteed if it had a construction permit, and it passed inspection, that it doesn’t have that kind of piping,” said Rep. Mike Hager, the bill’s main sponsor.

Children are most at risk when it comes to elevated lead levels in water, which can lead to developmental issues, stomach problems, or even brain distress. The EPA says any amount of lead more than 15 parts per billion is dangerous.

“It’s not much at all. It’d be like less than a thimble full in a cup of water,” said Reeder.

A CBS North Carolina investigation found that since 2005, more than 45 schools in North Carolina have turned up high lead levels, and there could be even more.  Franklin County had two schools on the list. The district has since replaced their lead and copper pipes with PVC pipes. With this in mind, lawmakers are urging the passage of HB 1074.

“The protection of our citizens is our main responsibility and especially our children. If we’re not looking after them then we’re not doing a lot of other things right,” said Hager.

The bill passed its third reading in the house Wednesday. Sponsors estimate it would cost up to $4.9 million to test all the qualifying schools and childcare facilities. The General Assembly is trying to find that sum in the budget to avoid placing the cost on schools.

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