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Booker, Gottheimer Announce Legislation Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in Schools

Legislation establishes grant program for schools to replace outdated water infrastructure, addresses loophole in water testing requirements

June 5, 2017
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HACKENSACK, NJ – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker was joined by U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) and local advocates at Hackensack High School to announce a new legislative effort to ensure drinking water in schools across our nation is clean and safe. The Get the Lead Out of Schools Act, which Sen. Booker will be introducing with U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), establishes a grant program to help local schools replace outdated water infrastructure and ensures schools are periodically tested and consistently monitored as part of the Lead and Copper Rule. 

“From Flint, Michigan to right here in New Jersey, far too often we have seen the health and safety of our children jeopardized due to outdated water infrastructure,” said Sen. Booker.  “The fact is, this national crisis is a direct result of our failure to adequately invest in our crumbling water infrastructure, particularly in our urban districts.  Our children deserve better.  By helping upgrade our water infrastructure and strengthening testing requirements, this legislation will put the health of our children first while creating jobs and investing in our future.”

The Get the Lead Out of Schools Act establishes a grant program to reimburse local educational agencies that voluntarily test for lead and provides funding to help replace outdated pipes that leach lead with new lead-free plumbing. Additionally, states that are conducting state-wide testing and remediation are also eligible to apply for the grant.  The legislation also addresses the loopholes in the Lead and Copper Rule in order to protect the safety of our children by making sure drinking water is continually monitored and that resources are provided to help address problems when they are found.

In April, Rep. Gottheimer introduced the Lead Free Schools Act, legislation that redirects existing funding and amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase testing for lead and contaminants in water at schools, promote transparency by making the results accessible to families online and provide for a competitive grant program for the replacement of old fountains and infrastructure that may be leaching lead and other contaminants.

“We’ve all seen the scary headlines: ‘High Lead Levels Close School Water Fountains,’ ‘Lead found in water at schools,’ ‘Elevated lead found in water in public schools,’ and more across our region and state in recent months. So, I’m proud to be taking action to keep our children safe and help give parents peace of mind that their children aren’t being poisoned where they’re supposed to be educated. My Lead-Free Schools Act will help schools test and improve their drinking water infrastructure and make sure that parents and communities know the status of the water in their kids’ schools while improving our local return on investment by deploying tax dollars we already send to Washington to protect our kids,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer.

“We have a lead crisis that is threatening our children in schools all across the country,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.  “Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Jersey each year; more than in Flint, Michigan. Lead is getting into our water systems and our schools from old pipes. This is a systemic problem especially seen in our urban areas. We’re glad that Senator Booker is leading on lead because we need to have more testing to identify the sources of lead and fix these problems. People should be made aware of any lead issues in their schools and homes. We need to get this bill passed and tell Congress to get the lead out.”

"Testing for lead in our school’s drinking water should be a no-brainer. The crisis of tackling lead in our school drinking water should be the top bipartisan infrastructure priority because our children's development is at risk," said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. "We are thankful for Sen. Booker and Rep. Gottheimer for advocating for testing our school drinking water for lead and tackling remediation. We need to fix the source of lead in our schools by removing lead from our environment -- we shouldn’t be playing lead roulette with the developing brains of our children in any city or town across this country.”

"Given there's no safe level of lead with any exposure irreversibly impacting IQ and so much more, we can't do enough to prevent lead poisoning especially in schools. Senator Booker's and Congressman Gottheimer's bills requiring more testing, disclosure and remediation are critical steps in ensuring we once and for all get the lead out,” said David Pringle, NJ Campaign Director for Clean Water Action.

Sen. Booker has long been committed to ensuring schools across our nation have access to safe drinking water.  In April 2016 Sen. Booker introduced the Transparent Environment in School Testing (TEST) for Lead Actthe Senate companion to Rep. Donald Payne’s (NJ-10), which would require states to help schools test for lead if those states receive federal funding for safe water programs.  In March 2016, Sens. Booker and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) urged Senate appropriators to include robust federal funding in the FY17 budget for two key water infrastructure programs that provide low-cost financing to states and cities for a wide range of water infrastructure development projects. 

In December, the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) which incorporated many of the proposals included in The True LEADership Act of 2016, originally cosponsored by Sens. Booker and Menendez. Among these are a new grant program to reduce lead in drinking water, mandatory reporting of elevated lead levels, funding for lead testing in school and child care facilities' drinking water, and a requirement to use American iron and steel in drinking water infrastructure projects.