ALBANY, NY – The NY State (NYS) Legislature unanimously passed the country’s first Safe School Water Act (A.10740/S.7103C) this past Saturday, mandating regular testing for lead in school drinking water. Lead exposure, especially among children under six, can cause learning development and behavior problems, and disproportionately impacts higher-poverty communities. WE ACT for Environmental Justice worked with New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV), NYPIRG, Clean and Healthy New York and Healthy Schools Network Inc., to pass the bill, which was sponsored by Assemblymember Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) and Senator Thomas O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats).
Prior to this bill, there was no uniform requirement for NYS schools to test for lead in drinking water. The bill ensures that all NYS schools comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and create statewide guidelines for school districts on how and when to test drinking water for lead. It also requires that schools disclose elevated lead levels in water to the parents/guardians of students, and that state and local funding is provided to schools for testing and remediation. Buildings constructed after 2014 are exempt from the bill.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice Deputy Director, Cecil Corbin-Mark noted that this bill is especially important for NYS environmental justice communities, “We know that poverty and geography contribute to the disproportionate exposure of lead poisoning among New York’s low-income, children of color. This bill will make it clear which schools across the state have a problem with lead in their water and require that where a problem exist children can get tested. When the governor signs this bill into law New York State will no longer be a place where children are lead poisoned by the schools, which are suppose to be places where they learn and thrive, no matter their ZIP code.” Corbin-Mark went on to say, “While the Safe Drinking Water Act’s passing and enforcement is a huge step, there is still more work to do. Elevated exposure to lead is often just the tip of the iceberg for environmental health inequality.” WE ACT for Environmental Justice is also working to pass a toxic-free children’s products bill, and the organization will take it up again when the NYS Legislature resumes in in January of 2017.