Mar 11, 2022 - News

New bill sets 2025 deadline for Philly schools to limit lead in water

Illustration of the chemical symbol for lead written on a chalkboard, being erased.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Philly is considering new legislation to combat lead-contaminated water in local schools.

Driving the news: Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a bill Thursday to push Philly schools to install modern water filtration systems by 2025.

State of play: The district is working on installing at least one filtered hydration station per 100 students, per floor in its 269 school buildings.

  • More than 1,320 have been installed already, and 800 more are on the way.

Between the lines: The legislation push comes a month after environmental advocates at Penn Environment and PennPIRG released a study indicating that 61% of water sources tested in district schools contained lead.

  • The report also found that 98% of the water sources in 65 schools tested positive for some level of contamination.
  • The district referred to the report as a "mischaracterization," citing its policy to shut down water fountains or sinks that test above 10 parts per billion (ppb) — the allowable lead level in Philadelphia.

Of note: Philadelphia's lead threshold is lower than the federal level of 15 ppb.

  • The study considers any amount above 1 ppb as contamination.

Yes, but: There is no safe level of lead, according to the World Health Organization.

What they're saying: "We want every student, every family, and every school community to feel confident in knowing the water they drink is lead free," Gym said in a statement.

District spokesperson Christina Clark told Axios it's a challenge to get the rest of the filters and hydration stations because of the lack of money and limited availability of licensed plumbers.

  • Clark said the additional 800 hydration stations will cost more than $1 million.
  • "We all share the same mission to ensure abundant safe drinking water is available in our schools," Clark said.

Jerry Jordan, president of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, supports the legislation.

  • "From old pipes to unreliable readings, for too many students and staff, a drink of water might mean an unknown gamble with their health," he said in a statement.

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