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Illinois To Mandate Drinking Water Testing In Schools

By Carlson Environmental | Share

Illinois lawmakers have taken a step to protect the health of the children of Illinois and eliminate the lead within school drinking water supplies.  Illinois is soon to be one of the few states to require all pre-kindergarten to fifth grade schools to test the lead content of water from plumbing fixtures in their facilities.  Testing requirements will also be developed for licensed day care centers, day care homes, and group day care homes serving children under the age of six.

Even though the recently revealed water quality issues in Flint, Michigan have raised awareness about the potential hazards associated with lead in drinking water, a few questions may still come to mind:

Where is lead found?  Lead is commonplace, found in the air, soil, water, and in our homes, schools, and places of work.  Burning fossil fuels and our previous use of leaded gasoline are (and were) major sources of lead in the environment. Lead has also commonly been a component of paint, ceramics, pipe and plumbing products (such as solder), batteries, firearm ammunition, and even cosmetics.

Why all of the fuss?  Despite having desirable properties, such as low melting point, malleability, electrical conductivity, and corrosion resistance, lead can be toxic to humans, other animals, and plants.

Who is at risk?  Although health risks have been associated with lead exposure for more than 2,000 years, lead poisoning continues to be a significant concern.  Nearly half a million children in the United States have unacceptable levels of lead in their blood, according to a 1999-2000 report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults.  Additionally, their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.  The CDC also considers pregnant women to be an at-risk population since lead can pass from a mother to her developing baby.

What is involved in the testing?  First-draw samples are to be collected followed by a 30-second flush, followed by the collection of a second sample.  Timing is critical in that prior to the collection of the first draw, “each source of potable water shall have been standing in the plumbing pipes for at least 8 hours, but not more than 18 hours, without any flushing of the source of potable water before sample collection.”  Samples are to be analyzed by an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) accredited laboratory and written results are to be submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) within seven business days of receipt of analytical results.

What if we find something?  If any of the samples collected in a school exceed a threshold value of 5 parts per billion, the school district or chief school administrator or designee shall provide individual written or electronic communication to the parents or legal guardians of all enrolled students.  The communication is required to identify the sampling location within the school building and include the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website for information about lead in drinking water.  If any of the analytical results from the school are at or below 5 parts per billion, the notification may be made directly as previously described or by posting on the school’s website.

What is the timeline?  School buildings constructed prior to 1987 will need to have their water supplies tested for lead in 2017.  Buildings constructed between January 2, 1987 and January 1, 2000 will need to have their supplies tested by the end of 2018.  The IEPA in conjunction with the IDPH will determine if testing is required for schools built more recently than January 1, 2000.  The referenced dates are tied to the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986, in which Congress included key provisions which came to be known as the “lead ban”; requirements effectively prohibiting the use of lead-containing pipe, solder and flux.

Who pays the bill?  The school districts, rather than the water suppliers, will be responsible for paying for the lead testing.  Schools will be able to use property tax dollars levied for life safety and tort immunity to cover the testing as well as remediation costs which commonly entail replacing faucets, drinking fountains, or other plumbing fixtures.

What if we already tested?  A school may potentially seek a waiver of the requirements from the IDPH if it has already completed sampling which meets specific requirements:  the samples were analyzed by an IEPA accredited laboratory, the test results were obtained before the amendatory Act but after January 1, 2013, and the results were submitted to the IDPH within 120 days of the effective date of the amendatory Act.

How can Carlson help?  Carlson’s professional staff has decades of environmental sampling experience.  We are ready to prepare and implement a sampling plan, interpret the analytical results, and assist if follow-up measures are required.  Please contact Paul Micari at for additional information.

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