Legislation would require Illinois schools to test for lead

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CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois elementary schools and day care centers would have to test drinking water sources for lead and notify parents of the results under legislation proposed Monday.

Schools and care facilities would be responsible for the cost of the one-time testing, which environmental experts estimate could run from $500 to $5,000 per facility. The plan, unveiled as lawmakers gathered for the final days of the current legislative session, would apply to all public and private schools with students up to grade 5 and facilities built before 2000.

The proposal follows the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which shed light on the dangers of lead contamination. Children are most at risk to the effects of elevated lead levels, which can cause developmental delays.

"Testing drinking water in all Illinois schools and day cares is an inexpensive way to immediately identify and stop lead exposure in young children that would otherwise cost families, schools and government much more," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office pushed for the legislation, said in a statement.

Since last year, her office has called for mandated lead testing in schools with the Illinois Environmental Council, which says there is a lack of information available to parents about water supplies. One of the sticking points was cost: Earlier versions called for water suppliers to pick up the tab and they objected.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's office said Monday that the administration was on board with the latest plan after the negotiations.

But school officials were still concerned about finances, especially for cash-strapped districts.

"This is going to be more of a burden for some than others," said Zach Messersmith with the Illinois Association of School Boards. He gave possible examples of post-testing changes, such as having to replace pipes or drinking fountains; the bill does not mandate those fixes.

Illinois schools constructed before 1987 would have to test by the end of the year, according to the proposal. Those constructed between 1987 and 2000 would have until the end of 2018. Lead pipes were banned nationwide in 1986.

There are roughly 2,500 elementary schools in the state, according to the IEC, and many already have tested for lead. Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bittner said every potable water source at every school in the nation's third-largest district was tested last year, including over 300 elementary schools.

The plan would also cover roughly 11,000 licensed day care centers and homes around the state, calling for state officials to come up with testing standards and procedures by 2018.


The bill is SB550.


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