On December 22, 2021, Governor Hochul signed a bill (S2122-A/A-160-B) that would improve New York State’s program to reduce lead in drinking water in public schools in New York State. This bill passed the New York State Legislature—unanimously—in June and is a big step forward to protect our kids from drinking lead.
In 2016, New York was the first state to require testing and remediation of drinking water taps in public schools. And we were alarmed from the results of the first data set:
- Around 82 percent of public schools reported one or more taps that tested above the state lead action level, which is 15 parts per billion (ppb).
- More than 56 percent of New York public schools statewide tested above the state action level at five percent or more of their water outlets, with a higher rate of taps closed for schools outside New York City (59%) than inside New York City (51%).
- Almost 2% of the public schools statewide found elevated levels for at least half of the outlets tested, with a higher rate outside New York City (2.4%) than in New York City (1.1%).
These results prompted NRDC and our partners to identify ways to improve New York’s program, which were included in the bill that the Governor signed:
- reducing the action level from the way-too-high 15 ppb to 5 ppb, closer to the 1 ppb level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics;
- changing the frequency of testing from every 5 years to every 3 years;
- requiring the posting of the actual lab reports, obviating the need to file Freedom of Information Law requests for the data;
- eliminating the exemption from testing and remediation for so-called “lead-free” schools;
- making certain that schools provide alternative water, if necessary, to school occupants at no cost to them; and
- providing state funding for remediation.
There is no safe level of lead, and this new law gets us closer to lead-free water. The ultimate fix is to have the plumbing manufacturers develop plumbing fixtures, fittings, pipes, etc. to be truly lead free. Until that day, New York schools can best protect children by installing drinking water stations that have filters designed to remove lead, and to replace those filters when needed.
Schools are the places where children spend the most time outside their homes. When they are in school, children should be able to drink water free from lead. This new law is a necessary step in the right direction.
In the 1970s, NRDC waged a years’ long battle to remove lead from gasoline. Since then, we have continued the fight for the removal of lead in drinking water—both from lead service lines in homes and from the taps in schools. But the fight is not over. Indeed, NRDC recently issued a report that estimated there were 360,000 lead service lines delivering water to New York homes.
We thank the New York State Legislature and Governor Hochul for making this new law a reality. And many thanks to the coalition that worked to shine the spotlight on this public health issue and make this bill become a law.