Beginning this school year, Pennsylvania schools will be required to either test for lead levels in drinking water or discuss lead issues in the school facilities at a public meeting. This new Public School Code requirement comes at a crucial time, in light of the Flint water crisis as well as Environment America Research & Policy Center’s 2017 report giving Pennsylvania a grade of “F” for having no required testing for schools. Additionally, there is no federal law requiring schools to test for lead in drinking water.
Schools should be knowledgeable about the significant health risks posed by lead, particularly to younger children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even at low levels, lead exposure in children has been associated with physical and behavioral effects, such as damage to both the central and peripheral nervous systems, reduced attention span, poor classroom performance, and impaired hearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no level of lead exposure is considered safe for children.
One possible source of lead exposure in schools is drinking water. Lead may leach from pipes, piping joints, valves, fittings, fixtures, and other plumbing materials into the drinking water. In other words, water can leave a water treatment plant free of lead but become contaminated before it is consumed at a school. When water remains in contact with leaded plumbing materials for longer periods, such as overnight and during weekends, lead is more likely to leach into the water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and EPA recognize that facilities with these on again/off again water use patterns, such as schools and daycare centers, may be more susceptible to elevated lead levels in their drinking water.
Under the Public School Code, schools with lead levels exceeding EPA standards must immediately implement a plan to ensure that no individual is exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water and that alternative sources of drinking water are made available. Additionally, elevated lead levels must be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), to be posted on the Department’s website. If you have any questions on this new requirement under the School Code, do not hesitate to contact the School Law Group at Stock and Leader.