Bill updates the Safe School Drinking Water Act with stronger standards
Albany, NY –The New York League of Conservation Voters 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.
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. ”
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 included the legislation in its 2021 Environmental Scorecard. 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.
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.
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.
NYLCV worked in partnership with numerous health, environmental, environmental justice, educational, and worker advocate organizations to advocate for this bill, including 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.
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 www.nylcv.org. 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 www.nylcvef.org for more information.
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