WASHINGTON — Right now, if your child attends a public school in Virginia, there is no way to know if the school’s drinking water is contaminated with lead, since schools are not required to test for the highly toxic metal.
But come July 1, 2017, schools in Virginia will face changes.
“We’ve got a law that’s coming in effect in July which requires schools to test all their drinking sources in school for lead,” State Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29.
McPike’s bill SB1359, which was signed into law, will require public schools in Virginia to develop and then carry out a plan to test their drinking water for lead. Lead poisoning can cause brain damage in children and can be fatal.
If elevated lead levels are found, McPike said the water source needs to be taken out of service and corrective action should take place to fix the problem.
He said the Flint, Michigan, water crisis where residents were drinking water with high lead levels was a catalyst for Virginia’s new law.
The crux of the problem is that leading testing is required by municipalities, “but we don’t test is where the water comes into the (school) building,” he said.
Testing needs to be done inside the schools, according to McPike, since lead is in copper, in solder joints and can leach into drinking water as the water sits in the pipes.
“So when our kids go to drink, they’re consuming actual lead, and lead has a huge detriment to brain development — and it impacts kids more than adults,” he said.
That is why testing is key.
McPike said some testing is already taking place even before the law takes effect: “What we’re finding in the early results are, there are a lot of schools that have lead in the water.”
Prince William County has begun testing.
“I understand that they’ve found a couple results in some elementary schools, some of our youngest kids. And they’re starting to take corrective action. I know they’ve got a plan of action,” McPike said.
The new law targets school buildings built before 1986, but newer schools can have lead problems as well.
“There’s lead that’s still in the products that we use in our drinking sources, and so this is why we got to test,” he said.
He said this about preventing long-term health issues with our kids, “and that’s well worth it.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the bill is SB1359.