Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered a review of an unenforced and unfunded rule requiring schools to test water for lead following a week where unsafe levels of the toxic chemical were found in the drinking water at 13 Tacoma schools.
The state rule was passed in 2009, but it was never given money to be implemented. Inslee’s order directs the state Department of Health to estimate the cost of testing every school for lead, and it asks the department to bring a proposal to the Legislature for doing so.
Today’s headlines in your inbox Click here for the Tri-City Herald’s daily morning and afternoon email newsletters
In a news conference Monday, state health officials said that in 2009, such testing was expected to cost $5 million.
Children in Washington have “some of the lowest blood lead levels” compared with other states, Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. But he added the recent tests at Tacoma schools were “definitely concerning.”
“We absolutely think testing drinking water is essential and important,” he said in reference to the unfunded state rule.
Officials with the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts said they rely on city water and regional health authorities to alert them to any problems with water quality in schools.
None of the districts has had any indications there is lead contamination in water coming from any school faucets or water fountains, officials said.
We absolutely think testing drinking water is essential and important.
Gov. Jay Inslee
However, the water at Pasco’s Edwin Markham Elementary School, which comes from a well, is currently being tested, said district spokeswoman Leslee Caul.
And all Kennewick schools will have their water tested this summer out of precaution, said Kennewick spokeswoman Robyn Chastain.
Tacoma Public Schools early last week informed parents of extraordinarily high levels of lead found at Mann and Reed elementary schools in tests done in May 2015 that went unreported and unfixed. The district quickly began a review of tests done between 2013 and this year, finding 13 of 22 tested elementary schools had unsafe levels of lead in certain sources of drinking water. Officials say they plan to retest every school within a month, and they have provided bottled water for affected schools while they fix known issues.
The district is voluntarily testing its water because no state or federal rule requires schools to check for lead in their water.
Inslee also directed the state Department of Health to screen more children at high risk for lead poisoning among other steps that seek to reduce lead exposure in the state.
“This directive will better ensure we’re working in coordination and leveraging resources effectively to tackle lead at all its primary sources, whether it’s water, paint or soil,” Inslee said in a written statement.
Herald reporter Ty Beaver contributed to this report.