Legislature OKs measure to test school water for lead

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Emergency legislation to strengthen requirements for water testing in schools was unanimously passed by the Senate on June 20.

The bill – proposed by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth – directs the Maine Department of Education to use existing funds to develop a grant program so Maine schools can test drinking and cooking water for lead contamination.

A February 2017 report from Environment Maine graded states for their work to protect children from lead poisoning at school. Maine, along with 11 other states, received an “F.”

The report notes that Maine has “particularly corrosive water, which can dissolve lead from plumbing systems” and recommends testing all water sources used for drinking and cooking on a yearly basis.

“Lead poisoning can have disastrous, long-term effects on the brain development of our children. It only makes sense that we take the proper steps to ensure the cooking and drinking water in our schools is safe and free from harmful lead,” Millett said in a release. 

The bill passed in the House of Representatives on June 19. Gov. Paul LePage has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to take effect without his signature.

On June 27, Communications Director Christine Kirby said the Senate’s Democratic Office had not heard of any action from the governor, but would expect to receive veto letters on June 30 if he does intend to take action. 

Current law requires water testing in schools that do not use public water sources. Still, according to a news release, schools using public water sources are not immune to contamination.

The bill requires schools that draw drinking water from public water systems to have the same tests performed on that water. School buildings less than 10 years old are exempt. 

Under the bill, after receiving results of school water tests, the Department of Education must make the results available to the public. Further, the Department of Health and Human Services must make nursery school results available to the public.

“Several state investigations have found that schools using public water have tested positive for high lead levels,” the release said. “LD 40 would close this loophole and keep more children safe from harmful toxins.”

In April, legislation proposed by Millett that would have required all schools to test their drinking and cooking water for lead contamination failed by two votes in the House of Representatives.

Although the Senate voted 32-3 on April 12 to enact the bill, it failed the two-thirds majority vote in the House – or 101 affirmative votes – as required by the state Constitution for emergency legislation. Ninety-nine representatives voted in favor and 50 against.

“I am thrilled that we were finally able to pass this bill and send it to the governor’s desk,” Millett said. “It both promotes lead testing in schools and makes sure schools can access funds to pay for testing.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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