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Quigley Releases Government Accountability Office Report on Lead in School Drinking Water

Jul 18, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), joined five House and Senate Democrats in releasing a disturbing new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found only 43 percent of school districts nationwide tested for lead in their schools’ drinking water in 2016 and 2017, and of those that tested, 37 percent found elevated lead levels. GAO found that 41 percent of school districts did not test for lead, while 16 percent did not know. 

The GAO conducted this report after receiving several separate requests on the issue from Rep. Quigley, Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Senate HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). Based on those requests, the GAO reviewed state and school district practices for lead testing and remediation efforts to protect children from exposure to lead in school drinking water. 

“The findings in this report are disturbing and unacceptable,” the Democrats said in joint statement. “No child should be put at risk for toxic lead exposure simply by drinking water at school.”

“This report should serve as a wake-up call to the Trump Administration that it must take immediate action to address lead in drinking water,” the six Democrats continued.  “The Administration should finalize a stronger Lead and Copper Rule and issue protective guidance requiring lead testing for all public schools.  As Members of Congress, we are committed to ensuring that states and localities have the funding and resources necessary to remediate lead in their schools and throughout their drinking water systems if it is discovered.”

As a result of its findings, GAO is making seven recommendations to address lead in school drinking water, including that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) update its guidance on how schools should determine lead levels requiring action. GAO also recommended EPA and the Department of Education collaborate to disseminate guidance and encouraging testing for lead in schools. EPA and the Department of Education have agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

According to the GAO report, Illinois is one of the eight states that require schools to test for lead in drinking water as of September 2017. In fact, school districts in Illinois have most recently completed a round of testing for lead in school drinking water between October 2016 and December 2017. Illinois requires public and private elementary schools constructed before 2000 to test their drinking water for lead (including all drinking water sources in each school) and does not mandate re-testing. Furthermore, if school districts find lead levels over 5 ppb, they are required to make the results available to families and have individual letters sent to families.

GAO’s report is available HERE.      

Rep. Quigley is a leading voice on the need to work at the local, state and federal level to keep Chicago’s drinking water safe from harmful toxins like lead. In addition to pushing for this report’s release, he introduced a comprehensive legislative approach to address the nationwide contaminated drinking water crisis brought to light by ongoing problems with the public water supply in Flint, Michigan. The proposal seeks to improve testing to keep potential contaminants like lead and copper out of public water supplies and provide resources to help communities remove contaminants that may already be present. Rep. Quigley also introduced the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2016, legislation to protect children in affordable housing from lead poisoning by requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to adopt prevention measures and update its lead regulations to protect children from the risk of lead exposure. U.S.