Lead can seriously change the trajectory of a child’s life. Studies show that lead is never safe in a child’s body. Exposure can seriously affect a child’s IQ, attention span and create numerous other physical, behavioral and cognitive issues.
This week, State Rep. Tony Exum (D-Colorado Springs) and I are introducing HB 17-1306, “Test Lead in Public Schools’ Drinking Water,” to the Education Committee to protect Colorado’s children. Using money in the existing Water Quality Improvement Fund, the bill provides funding for testing lead pipes and fixtures in old public elementary schools. Older buildings will be tested first, followed by newer schools. Exum and I want to make sure Colorado’s kids aren’t being exposed to such a dangerous chemical while at school.
Lead contamination is a serious issue in old buildings with lead service lines, pipes and fittings, which can leak into water supplies. This happens often in schools because the buildings have long periods without water use, such as holidays, summers, weekends and overnight, when the water has longer contact with the plumbing. Worse, many Colorado schools have not been updated since 1991, when lead was banned in any new plumbing installed in buildings.
The lead testing would be optional; no school district would be required to participate. Funding would cover 90 percent of the testing, with schools contributing the final 10 percent. Stakeholders agreed districts should pay a portion of the cost so they are both emotionally and fiscally invested in the process. Many districts want to test their faucets and service lines but have not been able to find the funding.
Once we know the extent of the problem, we will know how to respond.
We are supported by many organizations, including Children’s Hospital and the Colorado Rural School Alliance. This bill will particularly help smaller districts struggling to pay for this testing. Many larger districts, such as Denver, Jefferson County and Aurora, have already paid for their testing. Their results reveal that about 5 percent of the faucets in their schools are contaminated.
Children should expect to have clean and ample water at their school drinking fountains. Anything less is unacceptable. We have heard about the tragic situation in Flint, Michigan, where students consumed contaminated water for months; we are all worried about the harmful long-term effects on those children.
Exum and I want to make sure that never happens here. The bill will be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday, and we hope to have your support.
Barbara McLachlan represents State House District 59. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. During the legislative session, Rep. McLachlan and Sen. Don Coram share this column on alternate weeks.