Advocates Celebrate Passage of Lead Poisoning Prevention Legislation

New York League of Conservation Voters

For Immediate Release: June 10, 2021
Contact: Shachar Sharon,

Advocates Celebrate Passage of Lead Poisoning Prevention Legislation
Bill updates the Safe School Drinking Water Act with stronger standards

Albany, NY – School letting out for summer isn’t the only good news this month for students and staff. They’ll also soon have cleaner drinking water. 

Advocates today celebrated the State Legislature’s unanimous passage of 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,  New York’s new law would provide the most stringent protection for the largest population of students in the country. And it gets New York closer to the 1 ppb action level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The legislation also increases testing frequency to test triennially instead of the current frequency of five years, removes the possibility of exemption, and ensures water at no cost to the school communities when drinking water outlets are taken out of service for repair. The cost of remediation will be fully covered by the State as part of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act. It requires that lab reports be posted online, improving transparency and removing 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, Just Green 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.

This passage comes after years of advocacy by NYLCV and its partners. NYLCV made strengthening the State’s lead poisoning prevention standards a top policy priority in its 2021 Agenda and NYLCV committed to including the legislation in its Environmental Scorecard, due this summer. NYLCV Education Fund released a report earlier this year, “5 is the New 15,” which recommended reducing the lead poisoning action level to 5ppb as well as the other measures. They also developed an interactive mapping portal with the data from the report to educate parents and elected officials.

Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “New York is leading the way on lead-free learning environments. With this bill, we’ll have safer, cleaner drinking water in our public schools. Getting more lead out of public school drinking water has been one of our top priorities for years and we are thrilled that Senator Rivera, Senator Mayer, and Assemblymember Gottfried worked to get this bill passed before the end of the session. We are also thankful to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie for restoring New York’s leadership on this issue.  We urge the Governor to sign the bill before the school year ends.” 

“We need to ensure schools are safe and healthy environments for our children. I am proud that we were able to pass my bill to expand water testing in schools in an effort to get us closer to having a completely lead-free school system throughout New York State. This bill increases testing frequency, removes testing exemptions, sets the action level to 0.005 milligrams per liter, and increases disclosure requirements,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I want to thank the NYLCV, NRDC, Healthy Schools Network, NYSUT, NYS PTA, NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, WEACT for Environmental Justice, Clean & Healthy NY, and Children’s Defense Fund for working tirelessly to ensure our children are protected from the dangerous effects of lead contamination while at school.”

“The health and well-being of our children depend on us making every effort to identify lead poisoning as early as possible and at levels that reflect best practices in public health and prevention,” said Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.  “Lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage to a child’s brain.  Prevention is critical.”

“Kids deserve clean, healthy water to drink in their schools, and this legislation is the pathway to get there,” said Joan Leary Matthews, Senior Attorney and Director of Urban Water at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “A significant improvement put forth by this bill is lowering the lead action level from 15 parts per billion to 5 parts per billion, closer to the 1 parts per billion recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

“We are so excited to see the Lead in School Drinking Water bill pass the Senate and Assembly this session, with so much resounding support. Children are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead, which can impair the development of their brain and nervous system and lead to permanent and profound health issues. And according to a 2020 study, Black children in the United States are nearly three times more likely to have highly elevated blood-lead levels,” said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “That is why it is vital to eliminate every source of exposure to our children, and their cumulative effects. And that is why we support this legislation. Children should be in school to learn, not to be put at risk for developmental delays due to drinking water that contains high levels of lead. Thank you to Senator Rivera and Assemblymember 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.”

“We congratulate our legislators for the passage of 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 should be safe environments for all children. The 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. “This bill affirms that New York state is committed to creating healthy environments for our students and school staff, and we thank the Legislature for helping move our schools in the right direction.”

Claire L. Barnett, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network, “We are thrilled to see the Safe Drinking Water Act passed. With an action level set at 5 PPB, more frequent testing, and the elimination of the “lead-free” waiver, New York is reclaiming its national leadership on this issue. We are really pleased that beyond the current school building aid, there are Clean Water funds that can be used to cover the cost of remediation in schools. This is an unprecedented quadruple win for kids and for our schools.”   

“Children attend school to sharpen their minds – and shouldn’t be drinking water laced with a chemical that can do just the opposite. On behalf of the JustGreen Partnership, we applaud the leadership of Senator Rivera and Assemblymember Gottfried to improve the law on lead in school drinking water and better protect children’s health,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York, which co-leads the JustGreen Partnership, a collaboration of 50 organizations representing more than a million New Yorkers. 

“We are so thankful to the legislature for the passage of this critical important legislation, which will truly protect our children,” offered Dana Platin NYS PTA President. “Access to clean and safe water, especially in our schools, is of highest priority for NYS PTA.  This bill 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 legislation 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.”

“Schools should foster healthy brain development, not hurt it. That’s why removing lead from school drinking water is so important,” said Ben Anderson, director of poverty and health policy at the Children’s Defense Fund-New York. “We call on the Assembly to take urgent action and pass this bill that will make school drinking water safer.”

Lead is a hazardous toxin that continues to pose a dangerous risk to children’s health. Exposure to it can cause irreparable neurological and behavioral health consequences, especially for developing bodies. Children spend much of their time in school and the levels of lead in school drinking fixtures present an alarming problem, as many schools have older plumbing fixtures that contain large amounts of lead. Lead poisoning can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, causing irreversible damage, and babies and young children are particularly at risk. 

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 Montana, Illinois, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have reduced their action levels to 5 ppb or less.  Several other states such as Washington, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are actively considering lowering their action levels below 15 ppb. 

The “5 is the new 15” report included an analysis of lab reports from 90% of all New York State school districts that were already identified in the State’s 2016 data, found that an additional 63,428 drinking water outlets, or 17.2%, currently in use that would need remediation under a more protective standard of 5 ppb compared to the current action level of 15 ppb. The economic analysis estimates that it would cost $30 million to remediate all the outlets, which represents a good ROI because the State already spent $28 million in the 2016 round of testing. 

This report is part of NYLCV’s efforts to reduce toxins in our environment. In 2018, NYLCV Education Fund helped publish a report on the negative health impacts of lead poisoning in NYC and review the city’s enforcement of its lead poisoning prevention law. In 2019, NYLCVEF helped publish a follow-up report on inadequate enforcement of lead dust standards.

The New York League of Conservation Voters is the only non-partisan, statewide environmental organization in New York that takes a pragmatic approach to fighting for clean water, healthy air, renewable energy, and open space. For more information, visit The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund engages and educates New Yorkers on environmental issues and the environmental decision-making processes at the local, regional, state and federal levels. NYLCVEF fosters open, nonpartisan discussion on environmental policy and empowers New Yorkers to be effective advocates on behalf of the environment. Visit for more information.