60° Good Afternoon
60° Good Afternoon

New York State should require all schools to test for lead

The Flint Water Plant water tower is seen,

The Flint Water Plant water tower is seen, Monday, March 21, 2016, in Flint, Mich. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver issued an update Monday on her "Fast Start" program, saying crews are expected to replace lead service lines at two houses a day through the end of March if weather permits. Credit: AP

What do Bayport-Blue Point, Elwood, Northport-East Northport, Port Washington and Valley Stream have in common? Schools where excessive levels of lead were found recently in drinking water. The same is true of Ithaca, Binghamton and New Rochelle, and, most prominently, Flint, Michigan. Federal data show hundreds of schools nationwide failed lead tests from 2012 to 2105.

This is a serious problem. Lead can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, poor classroom performance, and reduced IQ and attention span in children. Federal law requires testing only in a tiny fraction of schools, those with their own water supply. No states require schools to test for lead.

A bill to correct that in New York has been introduced in both the State Assembly and Senate and should be passed, with some tweaks. The legislation would require schools to do “periodic” testing for lead and to notify the public of results. Districts would receive needs-based reimbursement for testing and remediation costs from the state Education Department. The frequency of testing needs to be more specific — annual checks would be appropriate. And the bill should specify how quickly districts must make repairs — for example, within 12 or 18 months. The bill would apply to buildings erected before 1986, when the federal government banned lead in pipes and solder in public water systems.

Many Long Island school districts are now voluntarily testing their water. This must be required to ensure everyone does it regularly. The New York League of Conservation Voters estimates the total cost of statewide testing at $15 million to $25 million. That’s a small price to pay when the health of our youngest minds is at stake. — The editorial board