PA lawmakers propose bill to remove lead from drinking water in public schools

Students walk through Upper Darby High School, Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Drexel Hill, Pa. For some schools, the pandemic allowed experimentation to try new schedules. Large school systems including Denver, Philadelphia and Anchorage, Alaska, have been looking into later start times.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By Sean Kitchen

December 12, 2023

State Reps. Tarik Khan and Roni Green are crafting bipartisan legislation to remove lead contamination from drinking water in schools across the commonwealth. A 2021 report found that 91% of 65 school districts surveyed had lead contamination. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Pennsylvania House and Senate held a press conference in the capitol rotunda on Tuesday to promote legislation that would remove lead contamination from public schools across the state. 

The bill, which has yet to be formally introduced, would require all schools to replace old water fountains with lead filtering water stations by 2025 and provide funding to school districts to achieve that goal. The legislation was inspired by an ordinance passed by the Philadelphia City Council in 2022. 

State Reps. Roni Green (D-Philadelphia) and Tarik Khan (D-Philadelphia) announced on Monday that they were circulating legislation addressing lead contamination in drinking water in the commonwealth’s schools. 

Additional co-sponsors include State Reps. Abby Major (R-Armstrong), Jim Haddock (D-Lackawanna), Jason Ortitary (R-Allegheny) and Joe Hogan (R-Bucks).  

“I’m a nurse practitioner and I can tell you that we know that no level of lead is safe in drinking water,” Khan said during Tuesday’s press conference. 

Khan went on to cite a 2021 report by Women for a Healthy Environment that found that 91% of 65 Pennsylvania school districts had water fountains and sinks that tested positive for lead. A later report conducted by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group found that 98% of Philadelphia schools had lead contamination in their drinking water. 

The Philadelphia School District solved the problem by installing water fountains that filter out lead, but others across the commonwealth haven’t acted. 

Citing his experience as a nurse practitioner, Khan explained how terrifying positive lead tests for infants can be.

“When I get a positive test, it’s terrifying,” Khan said. “Positive lead can have temporary side effects like speech and hearing issues, delayed puberty, and behavioral issues. And there can be permanent side effects like memory and IQ loss.”

The adverse effects of lead exposure to children under 18 include brian and nervous system damage, growth delays, and learning and behavioral problems.

Dan Bascilese, a parent who has two children attending school in Khan’s district, spoke in support of the proposed legislation. 

“I want to offer a parent’s perspective on this issue,” Bascilese said. 

“I represent 91% of schools that had lead in their drinking water. Think about that number. 91%. My children’s school has a water hydration station filtration system implemented in their school and I can feel safe that that is taking lead out of their water.”

Green closed the press conference by promising ascilese’s two children   that the legislators are going to work hard on removing lead contamination from the commonwealth’s schools. 

“We’re going to work very hard as a promise to you, and your friends, and all of the other children in the commonwealth, “ Green said. “We’re going to work hard to make sure that you have a safe environment in school and you have the best drinking water that’s free from all harm.”

 

 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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