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Bill to require lead testing of school water slowed

ALBANY — Despite bipartisan and powerful sponsors leading an effort spurred by the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, time is running out in Albany on a bill to require schools to test drinking water for lead.

School districts through their lobbyists, the state School Boards Association, continue to raise concerns about costs that could fall on schools despite a promise of state funding attached to the measure. Behind the scenes in the hectic final days of Albany’s legislative session, the issue is roiling lawmakers and lobbyists.

Supporters a week ago had expected the measure to pass the Senate and Assembly easily.

“There is no safe level of exposure to lead,” a coalition of environmental and public health groups lobbying for the bill said in a last-minute push on Tuesday.

“We are not in any way opposed to lead testing,” said David Albert, spokesman for the state School Boards Association. “We want lead testing done.”

Albert said Tuesday that the group doesn’t formally oppose the bill, but wants issues such as how the funding for any remediation would be provided to schools and if test results need to be reported to parents if lead levels are within federal safety standards.

For example, renovation to remove lead pipes or pipes soldered with lead could be covered under state building aid, but Albert said it’s unclear how temporary use of bottled water would be paid for.

“If there is a level that exceeds the threshold of the safe level, they should be notified,” Albert said. “That should be posted on the web site and parents should be provided written notification along with a plan to remediate.”

A May 17 memo from the School Boards Association to lawmakers stated, “We would prefer that testing be on a voluntary basis.” Albert said that is no longer the association’s position.

Sporadic testing has already found lead in some schools on Long Island, including in East Northport and Syosset, as well as in Binghamton, Ithaca, Rochester, Yonkers and Amsterdam, according to a coalition of environmental and public health advocacy groups lobbying for the bill.

“We don’t accept that they can’t afford it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), a former schoolteacher. “You can’t afford not to do it.”

Federal and state laws require regular testing of water at the municipal source, but a loophole allows schools to avoid testing water at drinking fountains or in their kitchens, supporters said.

The 2016 session is scheduled to end late Thursday night.

The crisis of lead in the municipal water in Flint, Michigan, and in the Los Angeles school district made national headlines and became part of presidential candidates’ debates.

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