CO Advocates Call for Action on Lead in Schools
DENVER — Colorado advocates are calling on state legislators to pass the Get the Lead out of School Drinking Water Act during the 2022 legislative session. The bill would protect children from lead exposure by funding water filters and lead testing at all Colorado schools and child care centers.
Senator Rhonda Fields, Senator Faith Winter, Representative Barbara McLachlan, and Representative Emily Sirota plan to sponsor the legislation, which will be introduced in the coming weeks. The state can pay for filtration and testing with funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“When I was in school I knew to never drink water from the faucets because it was not good and at times you would see things floating around,” said Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA) Member Sebastian. “As a student I had to rely on bottled water to have access to safe drinking water in my school - students and parents should not be forced to rely on alternative sources of water, we should have access to clean and safe drinking water at our schools.”
“Everyone deserves access to safe drinking water, and that means water free of lead,” said NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Program Attorney Cori Bell. “Lead exposure is dangerous and irreversible, but it’s also completely preventable through a ‘filter first’ approach. Installing filters on water taps is a simple and affordable way to make our schools and child care centers safe for students and pregnant teachers.”
“We know how to prevent lead contamination in our schools and child care centers,” said Plumbers Local 3 Business Manager Sean Wyatt. “We’ve got to install filters on water taps, and we’ve got licensed plumbers here in Colorado who are trained and ready for the job. In addition to protecting our children from the dangers of lead, this policy will create good jobs at a time when our state needs it most.”
The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even in small doses, lead harms the developing brain, which makes lead exposure especially dangerous for children and pregnant women.
Despite these dangers, lead is present in the water at Colorado schools and child care centers. More than half of the schools that participated in Colorado’s voluntary lead testing program, which ended in 2020, had elevated lead levels. 72% percent of children under the age of five in Colorado have detectable levels of lead in their blood, which is higher than the national average of 51%.
Addressing lead contamination in schools and child care centers is critical given how much time children spend in these environments. Schools and child care centers are likely to have older plumbing materials—which are more likely to contain high levels of lead than newer materials—and lead can dissolve into water when pipes sit unused over weekends, school breaks, and summer vacations.
Lead contamination is preventable through a “filter first” approach in which school and child care centers install certified filters on taps that are used for drinking water and cooking and then regularly test those taps for lead. Testing alone is not sufficient to solve this issue: we know lead is present in Colorado schools from the testing program, and even new plumbing is not completely lead-free.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill include funding that Colorado can use to fund and maintain these certified filters. The expected initial cost is approximately $37 million, with smaller amounts, approximately $7 million, required for maintenance, replacement filters, and sampling in future years. This approach is significantly cheaper than sporadic sampling and replacements, and taking advantage of this historic funding opportunity means that schools will not have to carry this financial burden themselves.
Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA) is a member-led, racial justice organization that works on climate, economic and immigrant justice issues. COPA organizes with community members that are most impacted by their issues and together they work to create change through organizing and policy work. Visit us at www.coloradopeoplesalliance.org and follow us on Twitter @COPAPower
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
Plumbers Local Union #3 members have joined in voluntary association for the benevolent purpose of preserving, promoting, and protecting the welfare of all employees in the plumbing industry within their jurisdiction.