Massachusetts officials announced Tuesday that they were earmarking $2 million to test for lead in drinking water at public schools statewide.
“Protecting the health of our children is a top priority,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement. “By proactively offering this critical assistance, we can ensure that all students and parents across the Commonwealth are in a safe environment where they can learn and grow.”
The money will come from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust, which is funded by a mix of state and federal dollars.
The state Department of Environmental Protection will use the money to pay for the analysis and to assist schools in testing fountains, as well as taps used in the preparation of food.
Some of the funding will go to train school personnel about the issue, to help design plans for continued testing, and to help schools remedy any problems that are found.
The environmental agency will work with the state education department on the program. The two agencies expect to distribute forms needed to participate in the program to school districts and municipal officials within a week.
“We encourage our school districts to take advantage of this important resource,” Education Secretary Jim Peyser said in a statement
MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg, who is a member of the board of the Clean Water Trust, said the program will focus “on those most in need of assistance.”
“The complexity of water sampling is something that can be daunting for some schools,” he said.
Officials said they expected there would be enough money to accept all schools that want to sign on to the program.
Some may already have comprehensive testing in place, or they may be new enough that officials are confident lead is not an issue, Suuberg said.
“These funds allow for us to test more schools and identify where the need is for further investigation to make sure our children are drinking safe, clean water,” said a statement from State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who chairs the trust and the state’s School Building Authority.
Joel Wool, an activist at Clean Water Action, a group that advocates for safe, affordable water, said the state funding for testing is a critical, “forward-thinking” step.
“We’re happy to see some real focus on this,” Wool said.
But testing is probably just going to be the beginning of tackling the problem, he said.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to figure out a way to fund repairs and upgrades to the infrastructure in our schools so that the drinking water for every kid in every school is safe,” Wool said.
Concern over lead contamination has risen since the crisis in Flint, Mich., where water was recently found to be contaminated with high concentrations of the toxic metallic element. The news has prompted water systems and schools around the country to look into the issue, sometimes unearthing serious problems.
Boston Public Schools officials announced this week that recent testing had turned up high lead levels at four school buildings. The Globe reported last month that high lead levels had been found at three other Boston schools in recent years, while about two dozen other schools had gone untested for several years. School officials have promised to step up testing.
Most schools in Boston rely on bottled water because of past lead concerns, and recent efforts by the city to restore tap water for drinking at more schools have hit a snag.
Massachusetts law requires each public water system (each town and city typically has its own system) to periodically collect samples from at least two water sources inside at least two schools or early education facilities, selected on a rotating basis. The testing periods vary from every six months to every three years.
Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells.