Rauners signs law requiring lead testing of school, day care water

- Enjoying a rare moment of bipartisan support, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill Monday requiring every school and daycare center in the state test the water coming out of faucets and water fountains for potential lead contamination.

"This will change the system,” Rauner said. “We're holding our schools and our day care centers accountable for lead testing. We're making sure it can get paid for so it actually happens, and we are going to insist that this gets done."

The law requires schools and day cares built before 1987 test for lead by the end of this year and schools built after 1987 to test by the end of 2018.

Any findings of lead contamination above 5 parts per billion will require that the school notify parents or guardians but does not require the school to immediately fix the problem.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that water outlets showing lead contamination of 20 parts per billion or higher be immediately turned off.

"The environmental defense fund estimates that a quarter of all lead pipes in the nation are in Illinois. This is just the first step towards identifying what that risk is,” said Jen Walling, a member of the Illinois Environmental Council:

A recent investigation by the Daily Herald found 15 percent of the water samples taken from 319 suburban schools contained some amount of lead. However, most districts in Illinois have never been tested.

The bill was signed on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday because the civil rights pioneer was one of the first to raise concerns about lead contamination in African-American communities.

"If you look within the city of Chicago itself, some neighborhoods have none and other neighborhoods have six times the level of lead poisoning. And every single one of those neighborhoods is high poverty, almost all of them of them are disproportionately African-American." State Sen. Heather Steans said.

Initially some school districts fought the bill, saying it would cost too much to test and fix. But the new law now allows districts to tap safety and legal funds to help defray the costs.

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