Bill to test school water for lead goes to Rauner

A bill that requires testing of drinking water in all Illinois schools for lead contamination was approved unanimously today by the Illinois Senate.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose administration worked with schools, testing advocates and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to remedy concerns over costs and responsibility for testing.

The bill had stalled in committee, mainly due to pushback from school administrators and municipal officials who complained about unfunded mandates and reporting penalties. The current bill requires school districts to test all water fixtures where the public can be expected to get a drink, including water fountains, kitchen sinks and classroom faucets, by 2018. The bill does not require testing of restroom sink fixtures or spigots in custodial closets. It also only requires districts to perform the tests once instead of regular, routine testing. Licensed child-care facilities also must test water for lead.

"This bill shows what is possible when we work together," Rauner said in a statement. "I applaud the General Assembly for passing this legislation that requires testing of drinking water for lead at schools, day cares and facilities determined to be high risk because of the potential for exposure to Illinois' youth." The compromise resulted in part from a Daily Herald investigation last month showing that while many suburban schools districts had performed some testing for lead in water within the past three years, testing was not as comprehensive as the bill requires.

The investigation showed 15 percent of 5,112 water samples taken from 319 schools had some level of lead contamination.

Lisa Madigan has championed the legislation, calling for widespread comprehensive testing of schools since current law only requires schools using well water to regularly test for lead contamination. The bill also requires school districts to notify parents of results showing lead levels above 5 parts per billion.

However, there is no requirement that schools act on results that show contamination. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends school water fixtures be taken out of service when tests show lead contamination at 20 parts per billion or higher.

"This bill is an important first step to immediately identify and address lead exposure in drinking water in Illinois schools," said Maura Possley, a spokeswoman for Lisa Madigan. "We are confident that the provision requiring notice to parents will move schools ... to address a water source with elevated levels of lead exposure."

Health officials said there is no safe level of lead exposure and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects, which can slow brain development.

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