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Bill Would Expand Lead Testing for School Water

Environmental and health advocates in Maine are urging lawmakers to support a bill that would require schools on public water systems to test for lead. Currently, only schools that draw water from nonpublic sources, such as wells, must test.

Schools on public water systems are exempt from the testing requirement because the municipalities already tests for lead. But that can be a problem, says Democratic state Sen. Rebecca Millett, because that won’t necessarily reveal when there’s a localized problem.

“An old school with an aging system of pipes is at just as much risk of leaching lead and other hazardous substances into otherwise clean water,” she says.

Within the past year, schools on municipal water, including Yarmouth, Bangor and Benton, have voluntarily conducted tests revealing elevated lead levels due to corrosive faucets and fixtures. The issue has prompted Millett to sponsor a bill to make such testing mandatory.

Laura Dorle of Environment Maine says the bill will increase both testing and transparency by requiring the state to make the results publicly available.

“Most schools aren’t even testing their water for lead. Or when they do, we only hear about results when they are over 15 parts per billion. But as the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, there is no safe level of lead,” she says.

A report by USA Today a year ago found schools and day cares across the country have lead-contaminated water, often due to old fixtures and plumbing.

The bill before the Legislature’s Education Committee would exempt schools with buildings less than 10 years old from mandatory testing.