More than 60 percent of Washington schools tested by the state Department of Health last year show unsafe levels of lead. That’s according to a nonprofit group that's pushing for higher standards in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Environment Washington wants what it calls a “health based standard” for getting lead out of drinking water. In its new report, "Lead in the Water," the group says Washington is falling far short.
The federal standard set by the EPA is 15 parts per billion. Seattle Public Schools has opted to stay below 10 ppb. But in 2016, after the crisis in Flint, the American Academy of Pediatrics began urging schools to take action when one part per billion is detected.
“We got rid of lead in gasoline and paint in the 70s. We’ve known for decades that this is a serious public health issue. But we’ve been very slow to act on drinking water infrastructure,” said Bruce Speight, executive director of Environment Washington.
Communities around the country are starting to change that. Austin, Texas, is requiring action where more than one part per billion is found. The Illinois Department of Public Health requires remediation at any level of lead detected. Washington, D.C., and San Diego require action at five ppb.
Speight says his group is supporting a bill before the Washington Legislature that would require notification of parents at one ppb. Districts would have to take action at five ppb.
“We see that as a step in the right direction and we think that the notification of parents is especially important, just to help people understand that this is in fact a problem," he said. "And we need to get serious about addressing it."
The House Education Committee, where the bill was introduced, has not yet scheduled a public hearing.
Lead poisoning can damage the nervous system and cause learning and behavioral problems. Children absorb as much as five times more than adults.