Senate and Assembly pass safe water bill in final hours of session



The issue of lead contaminated water is one that Americans have become all too familiar with. With Flint, Mich., Baltimore, Md. and Newark, N.J all in the headlines recently for contamination in their drinking water, lawmakers, educators and environmental groups are hoping to be proactive about keeping children safe in New York.

There have been 89 schools around the state, from Rochester to Binghamton to Long Island, where lead has been discovered in the drinking water. To combat this problem both the Senate and Assembly passed a bill Thursday that would mandate periodic testing for lead and other contaminants in schools’ drinking water.

The Safe School Water Act (S.7103-c/ A.09687-c) sponsored in the Senate by Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, and in the Assembly by Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, requires school districts to conduct periodic tap water testing to make sure lead is not found in drinking water.

O’Mara stressed the importance of this bill saying, “It is the state’s responsibility to keep students safe.”

Lead contamination in drinking water is a problem that often goes undetected until it is too late. The founder and executive director of Healthy Schools Network, Inc., Claire Barnett, said “Often times children, as well as adults, didn’t know they were drinking contaminated water,” adding “it is important that everyone gets clean drinking water.”

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, thanked lawmakers for acting quickly on the bill as session was winding down.

“True leadership is acting boldly and swiftly in the face of a crisis. That is exactly what the State Senate has done in response to the epidemic of lead in school water,” Bystryn said. “Understanding that our children cannot wait until next year, Senator O’Mara and his colleagues stepped up and passed strong legislation to fund testing at the tap for every school in the state.

“Just as critical, this bill also requires reporting of the results so parents can have peace of mind and New York state can better understand the scope of the problem,” Bystryn added. “This will put us on a path to make sure no child is poisoned by lead while at school, providing safe water until remediation is complete.”

According to the state Department of Health, lead can harm a young child’s growth, behavior, and ability to learn. While some schools in New York conduct testing for lead, not all do, and this bill would create a standard testing protocol to ensure students are protected.

School districts and BOCES would undergo periodic tap testing at a frequency to be set by DOH. Buildings built after 2014 will be exempt, schools testing negative would be given waivers, and schools with water containing unacceptable amounts of lead would be eligible for additional financial assistance for the costs of testing and remediation.

Bonnie Russell of the New York State Parent-Teacher Association said her organization is “grateful to the Senate and Assembly for passing this important legislation that will support schools as they provide a healthy and safe environment … that is free of lead in the drinking water.”

The new rules highlighted in this legislation take effect within 60 days of the signing of this bill, in time for the next school year. The governor touted the bill in an end-of-session press release, indicating he would sign it into law.