Report on high lead levels in school drinking water may boost ‘flushing’ bill in legislature

Reports of unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water at some Nashville schools may improve chances for passage of legislation that died in a House subcommittee earlier this year, reports WTVF-TV.

The TV station recently found data from a survey of Nashville school water, not previously made public, that showed 81 of 2,800 samples had lead levels higher than the 15 parts per billion, the “action level” established by the Environmental Protection Agency. The American Academy of Pediatrics says a child’s drinking water should have no more than one part per billion and about third of the samples were in excess of that level. At one high school, the level was 1,190 parts per billion.

Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, sponsored a bill this year (HB385) that would require daily “flushing” of water systems in school building built before 1986.

“Flushing,” he explained, “is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make sure that you reduce the possibility of contamination to lead in the drinking water, by simply running the faucets for one minute every day or on a regular basis so it doesn’t sit in the pipes and you have a bunch of lead that leaches into the drinking water.”

(The bill died in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee with members questioning the need for it.)

…”Is this a solution in search of a problem — or do we have a problem?” asked state Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville. “Right now, the health department hasn’t brought that there is a problem. There’s not been any testing to show that there is a problem.”

That, Powell noted, was the crux of why he couldn’t get his legislation passed.

“We did not have hard evidence to say, yes, this is a problem, we continue to see lead in drinking water in our schools because I was not made aware of any tests that had occurred even in my own back yard in Nashville.”

…But now that the report has been made public, he hopes it will change the debate and help get the lead out of the water.

“Unfortunately until then there are a lot of Tennesseans — not just in Nashville, but possibly statewide — that could be exposed to lead in their drinking water, not just in the homes, but at schools.”

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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