Rauner signs school, day care lead-testing law

SHARE Rauner signs school, day care lead-testing law
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Students line up to drink from a water fountain inside Brentano Math and Science Academy on June 9, 2016. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Illinois elementary schools and day care centers will have to test drinking water sources for lead under legislation that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Monday.

Rauner says the new law “is a step in protecting our children from the devastating effects of lead exposure.”

School buildings constructed before 1987 and used for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade must complete lead testing by the end of this year. Those built afterward have until the end of 2018.

The law also directs the state Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Health to create rules to ensure children in licensed day care facilities are protected from lead in water. And it asks the water service companies to identify what pipes tested positive for lead and create an inventory system. They must also notify residents about construction on water systems so they can take steps to flush out their water systems to prevent ingesting lead.

“This is critical. We know that any source of lead in the bloodstream, particularly for kids, is highly problematic,” sponsor state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said on the Senate floor Jan. 10. “And this way we will know now that we are protecting our kids from ingesting any lead.”

Last year, all 11,969 water fixtures at 526 Chicago Public Schools were tested, including drinking fountains, office sinks and kitchen sinks. Of those, 366 fixtures reported lead levels in water above the “actionable level,” the school district said.

From there, CPS tested the drinking water for lead at every school, prioritizing schools built before 1986 and ones with a pre-kindergarten program. CPS plans to continue testing at all schools over the next two years.

In a statement, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said the school district’s program already exceeds the state’s requirements.

“Testing for lead in drinking water can help keep all Illinois students safer, which is exactly why CPS voluntarily started an aggressive testing program for lead in schools’ drinking water,” Claypool said.

CPS has spent $1.9 million to date and expects to spend $2.3 million by the time lead remediation work is completed.

Schools and day care centers will be responsible for the one-time testing. It applies to all public and private schools.

It follows a crisis in Flint, Michigan, which showed the dangers of lead contamination. And Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan last year called for lead testing in schools after the Illinois Environmental Council found levels of lead in some Chicago and suburban school districts.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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