Missouri House bill would help eliminate lead in school drinking water

Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 10:00 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 1, 2022 at 10:14 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Some Missouri lawmakers are working to eliminate dangerous levels of lead in school drinking water.

One Missouri House bill would require schools to test their drinking water for the poisonous toxin, and then mitigate the issue if dangerous levels are found. That mitigation would include replacing old systems and adding filters.

Lead can be harmful to anyone, but it can be even more harmful to children in even smaller amounts.

“For children, it can actually reduce their IQ level,” said Jeff Pinson with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “It can cause behavioral problems. And all of this is at a fairly low level that this can actually happen. Adults can have increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or nervous system problems.”

Pinson said lead becomes a concern when it reaches levels of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter. He said it used to be five micrograms per deciliter right after the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Before that, it was 12 micrograms per deciliter.

Pinson said there are three major way lead can be found in water.

“First off, it can be source water lead,” he described. “And that’s not a very large occurrence in the state and in the nation that’s very, very low. Then you can also have lead from a lead service line where the water sits in a lead service line for an extended period of time, basically over six hours and you can get elevated lead levels from that. Then also from the tap. Basically where the tap isn’t used for a six-hour period or longer, and then you can have a little bit more lead that’s leaching out of that fixture.”

Some schools already test their water on their own.

“I think that some of them that have tested have done some replacements for some taps in their schools, but a lot of them have found out that it was just excessive stagnation,” Pinson said.

He said that issues can be solved by flushing a tap, meaning a person runs the tap for 30 seconds to two minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. Pinson said DNR sends a letter to schools across the state reminding them to do this after the summer.

“Schools don’t really have a lot of people that are there during the summer months to actually use water,” he said. “So that water has been sitting on this pipe stagnant for a very long period of time. They need to do a big flushing program before they start.”

While some schools may do their own testing, utility providers or cities do so in many other cases whenever a school or anyone else has a concern. The EPA also has mandatory lead testing every three years.

”We do thousands upon thousands of tests every year throughout the system to make sure that the quality of water we have is safe and is falling under the guidelines of the EPA and other regulations,” said Joel Alexander with City Utilities of Springfield. “If there is ever a concern within the residents or business or anything, we want to know about that.”

Alexander said CU can do the testing for its customers if they ever have an concerns. He said Springfield has not had any major issues with lead in drinking water. The same holds true over in Ozark.

”We basically replaced all known lead water services during the timeframe from 1991 to 1993,” said Samatha Payne with the City of Ozark. “As we make routine updates, we go back and double check to make sure that everything’s up to compliance. We’ve had no issues with any lead stuff since before 2014.”

Removing lead services lines has been a big push lately, but oftentimes the issue stems from systems within older buildings.

“With some of the older homes, especially in the older areas, there could still be lead within those pipes that are within a residence,” Alexander said.

This part of the reason lawmakers aim to require schools to test, in case systems are old inside of schools.

The EPA is also updating some policies to increase testing within schools.

“As we move toward that here in the next year or so, we’ll actually be doing more in-depth testing within the schools,” Alexander said. “That’s not to say that we don’t do it if it’s not needed now. But for the most part, we respond upon those when someone thinks there is an issue that needs to be tested. Making sure it’s safe here within the schools is something we need to make sure is done. As we move toward these new guidelines, we’ll be implementing those processes and see exactly what we need to do. But we’re happy to do that.”

The bill will be heard again on April 4.

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