Mandate lead test for schools

Whether or not state House Bill 2025 becomes law — we hope it will — Pennsylvania school districts should comply with the proposed law’s intent of having all school buildings’ water tested for presence of lead, a neurotoxin interferes with children’s ability to learn and develop.

It’s puzzling that the issue of lead in school water is only now getting the attention in Pennsylvania that it has long deserved. The dangers associated with lead-based paint were recognized many years ago.

If the proposed measure is enacted, the state should consider reimbursing districts for the cost of the first round of mandated testing.

That would serve two purposes: It presumably would help get the testing process started more quickly, and it would address the reality that most school districts, after they’ve drawn up their annual budget, have few extra dollars available for new mandates from Harrisburg or Washington, D.C.

Delaying the testing until a new budget year would represent bad judgment.

The current state budget passed in June encourages school districts to conduct testing for lead in water, without specifically mandating it. House Bill 2025 would require regular lead testing for all schools’ drinking water, as well as a report to the public about the tests’ findings.

A statement attributed to Rep. Karen Boback, a Republican House member from Dallas, Luzerne County, says that the water-testing recommendation that passed in conjunction with the 2018-19 state budget “is not a substitute for comprehensive legislation” aimed at keeping children safe.

HB 2025 has been referred to the House Education Committee, which hopefully will be expeditious in weighing the measure and forwarding it to the full House.

The measure has attracted more than 70 co-sponsors and otherwise continues to receive strong bipartisan support.

The reason why HB 2025 would be valuable is because it would focus on the condition of water once it has entered school buildings. It would answer the question of whether the school whose water is being tested has a problem on its property or within its walls that is compromising the safety of the water that students are drinking.

Few people familiar with the Butler Area School District in western Pennsylvania would have envisioned a problem with the water in that district’s schools. However, a class-action complaint filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania alleged that the Butler district permitted students to consume drinking water from two of its wells that contained lead levels about 200 percent to 300 percent above what’s acceptable.

On a brighter note, the Tyrone Area School District is one of the school systems in this region that hasn’t needed a recommendation or mandate from the state regarding water testing. All of Tyrone Area’s buildings were tested two years ago, and no lead reportedly was detected.

The statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization PennEnvironment says it’s now not clear how many schools might have dangerous levels of lead in their water, but that where tests have been performed across the commonwealth, many of the results have been troubling.

As now written, HB 2025 would have the power to shine some badly needed light.

Lawmakers should make the bill’s passage a priority.