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N.Y. Legislature Passes ‘Safe School Drinking Water Act’

Hans Pennink

A new law, years in the making, mandates that all public schools in New York State test for lead in their drinking water.

Lead is a neurotoxin that has been linked to learning disorders and lower IQs, especially in children. Back in the 1980s, the federal government tried to regulate the amount of lead in school drinking water but failed. A bill was introduced in Albany back in 2001 and has been reintroduced every year since. Then, after lead was found in the drinking water at schools in Newark, Long Island, and all over the country, the governor's office kicked the effort into high gear.

Christopher Goeken, director of public policy for the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "This is a national model for how to deal with this emerging public health crisis. New York is the first to pass legislation to require testing and remediation at the tap for all public schools."

Previous versions of the bill never gained traction because they forced local taxpayers to pay for the testing and mitigation. David Alpert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said this new bill provides multiple streams of state tax dollars to pay for the lead remediation.

"And we also were able to work with the legislature and put in place a higher reimbursement level of building aid."

The bill calls for an initial report of all school lead levels due to the legislature by the end of the year. Alpert says lawmakers and Cuomo administration officials will use that report to determine how much to fund building improvements at schools to get rid of lead risk.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.
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