SPRINGFIELD — A bill that will require Illinois elementary schools and day care centers to test for lead in drinking water now heads to the governor’s desk, and he is expected to sign it into law.
The measure was approved by the Illinois Senate 55-0 on Tuesday. It was previously approved 48-5 in the Senate but it was reworked via amendments to include additional requirements.
The bill requires school districts to collect and analyze water samples from drinking fountains and kitchen sinks in schools that serve pre-kindergarten through fifth graders in buildings that were built before Jan 1, 2000. Those samples must be tested for lead.
It also asks 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. “And this way we will know now that we are protecting our kids from ingesting any lead.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner is on board with the bill and said work on the legislation shows a sign of bipartisanship.
“This bill shows what is possible when we work together,” Rauner said in a statement. “I applaud the General Assembly for passing this bipartisan legislation that requires testing of drinking water for lead at schools, daycares, and facilities determined to be high risk because of the potential for exposure to Illinois’ youth.”
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 proposed requirements in the bill passed on Tuesday.
“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. Earlier versions of the bill had water suppliers picking up the cost.
The House overwhelmingly supported the measure 108-1 on Monday.
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.