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January 9, 2017

MADIGAN APPLAUDS HOUSE PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM LEAD IN DRINKING WATER

Legislation Requires Lead Testing in Schools and Day Cares Throughout Illinois

Chicago — Attorney General Lisa Madigan applauded the Illinois House's approval of legislation to protect children from drinking water contaminated by lead. The legislation was initiated by Madigan and the Illinois Environmental Council last spring in response to alarming levels of lead found in water in many Chicago and suburban school districts. Lead exposure can have serious lifelong developmental impacts on children.

Senate Bill 550, sponsored by Rep. Sonya Harper and Sen. Heather Steans, passed the House 108-1-1.

"Lead exposure can lead to serious and lifelong developmental problems for young children and infants," Madigan said. "Many school districts in Illinois are already testing for lead in drinking water and have discovered alarmingly high rates of lead contamination. Testing drinking water in all Illinois schools and daycares is an inexpensive way to immediately identify and stop lead exposure in young children that would otherwise cost families, schools and government much more."

"This bill is an important first step that will identify lead contaminated infrastructure in Illinois, especially in schools and day cares. Our end goal is removal of lead from our drinking water system to ensure safe water for all Illinoisans," said Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, which can lead to irreversible brain damage and lifelong intellectual, emotional and behavioral consequences. The Illinois Department of Public Health has found that Illinois has rates of lead exposure significantly higher than the national average.

Despite Illinois' lead poisoning rates and the high risks posed by drinking water contaminated with lead, state law does not require lead testing of drinking water in schools and day care centers.

In the last year, some Illinois schools that have voluntarily tested drinking water for lead had alarming results. According to media reports, Chicago Public Schools tested approximately 12,000 water fountains and kitchen sinks in over 500 schools and found elevated levels of lead in about 3 percent of the fixtures tested. Test results from other school districts, including Glenview and St. Charles, also revealed some drinking water sources with elevated lead levels.

The bill would require that all schools built before 2000 with pre-kindergarten through fifth grade classes test all water sources used for drinking or food preparation for lead. The measure also requires certain day care facilities to test water sources for lead.

The legislation also requires an inventory be taken of all lead service lines in the state that pose the risk of increased lead exposure in drinking water. Additionally, the bill would increase public notification of nearby water main construction projects that could impact water lines and increase the presence of lead in water.

The lead tests, which cost an average of $15 per drinking water sample, would provide schools and day care centers with the information needed to quickly take simple steps to protect children from dangerous lead exposure. For example, water fountains with elevated lead levels can be turned off or flushed to address the problem. In addition to allowing schools and day cares to protect children immediately, the test results would guide schools and day cares in formulating a plan to prevent high lead levels from reoccurring.

"The changes we have made to the bill reflect a bipartisan commitment to protecting our children from lead in the water they drink at school," said state Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago). "As the parent of a child who attends a Chicago school that tested positive for lead-contaminated water, this is an extremely personal issue, and I encourage my Senate colleagues to send this measure to the governor."

"Parents have the right to know whether the water in their children's schools is contaminated by lead, and this legislation is a step toward giving parents that information so they can ensure that their children are protected," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago). "I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to send this legislation to the governor's desk."

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