Twenty-four Senate Democrats are asking their colleagues in Congress to help schools pay for the testing of lead levels in drinking water, calling it an investment to ensure the health and safety of the nation’s children.

The move comes in the aftermath of the drinking-water crisis in Flint, Mich., which helped shine a light on a loophole in federal law that exempts many schools from having to test their water for lead contamination. Many schools don’t have the resources for voluntary testing, leaving children vulnerable to the possibility of undetected toxins in the water they drink from school fountains.

“Over half of schools have not tested their drinking water and may be providing to children water with unsafe levels of lead or other chemical, biological or heavy metal contaminants,” the senators wrote in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee that deals with appropriations to agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies.

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“While we recognize the need to make difficult choices in the current fiscal environment, we strongly believe that investing in lead prevention and mitigation now will reduce future costs associated with the need for additional health care and remedial educational services.”

The U.S. senators who signed the letter are: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Gary Peters (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The full text of the letter is below.

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April 25, 2016

The Honorable Jerry Moran

Chairman

Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural

Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

Senate Committee on Appropriations

Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Jeff Merkley

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural

Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

Senate Committee on Appropriations

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Merkley:

Lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, and communities across the country has highlighted the issue of lead and other contaminants in drinking water and the urgent need to prevent lead poisoning and exposure to other environmental toxins. Lead poisoning is a serious public health threat that requires immediate, coordinated, multi-sectoral action to mitigate its threat to children. As your subcommittee considers its Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill, we write to request your support of testing for lead and other contaminants in drinking water in schools.

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Section 203 of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 requires schools to “make available to children free of charge, as nutritionally appropriate, potable water for consumption in the place where meals are served during meal service.” Despite these requirements, over half of schools have not tested their drinking water and may be providing to children water with unsafe levels of lead or other chemical, biological or heavy metal contaminants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implements the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that public water supply systems do not have elevated lead levels and about 95% of these systems do supply safe water. However, schools may have service lines or plumbing systems that contaminate tap water with lead. There is no federal requirement for schools to test their water for lead contamination, and many schools do not have the resources to do such testing.

As we know, children are very susceptible to lead poisoning. Lead has a negative effect on children’s brain development, resulting in reduced intelligence quotient, behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Numerous studies suggest lead exposure leads to a “significant and modifiable effect on the achievement gap.” Providing children with good nutrition can help children who have been poisoned by lead, but we need to do more to prevent lead poisoning in the first place.

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While we recognize the need to make difficult choices in the current fiscal environment, we strongly believe that investing in lead prevention and mitigation now will reduce future costs associated with the need for additional health care and remedial educational services. For these reasons, we ask that in your FY17 Agriculture Appropriations bill, you provide funding for water testing for lead in drinking water for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. Thank you for your consideration.

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