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Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website: hiddenpoison.org.

Lawmakers Attempt To Tackle High Lead Levels In Schools

90.5 WESA

A group of Pennsylvania lawmakers and environmental advocates are trying to lower the lead levels in schools.

The problem extends beyond the commonwealth. Nationally, there’s no requirement that schools be tested for lead at all.

In a recent review of 16 states’ laws around testing schools’ water for lead, advocacy group PennEnvironment gave Pennsylvania—and 11 other states—an F.

A limited USA Today study also found between 2012 and 2015, water in Pennsylvania schools and day cares failed to meet EPA lead standards at the second-highest rate nationally.

But a newly announced bill—sponsored by GOP Representative Karen Boback—would require both public and private schools test for lead every two years, and install filters or other fixes for any level above 5 parts per billion.

That’s higher than the EPA’s 15 parts per billion standard.

PennEnvironment’s Stephanie Wein said it seems like an obvious move.

“There is residential testing done for lead in drinking water. That’s standardized,” she said. “Because there is no federal regulation that forces testing in school drinking water, there’s actually this huge gap. So this seemed like we could make a difference as quickly as possible.”

It’s unclear how much testing and remediation would cost, or where funding would come from. The bill leaves that up to the State’s Departments of Environmental Protection and Education.

“When you think of the long-term costs of the developmental delays and the loss of IQ points that come with early-life lead exposure, it seems like a pretty good deal,” Wein said.

The bill currently has 50 cosigners, from both sides of the aisle.

It’s inspired by similar standards introduced in Philadelphia schools—though it would allow even less lead in drinking water.