Pallone Announces Proposed Legislation To Repair School Water Fountains That May Contain Lead — August 26, 2016

By Susan Loyer

NEW BRUNSWICK — U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th District, ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced new proposed legislation that would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide assistance to schools to replace older drinking water fountains that may contain lead.

The bill, H.R.5886, coauthored with U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, would establish a grant program to provide assistance to local educational agencies for the replacement of drinking water fountains manufactured prior to 1988.

The announcement was made Friday at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in the city. Dozens of New Jersey schools, including those in the city, have reported lead levels over the federal action level this year.

"Lead in school drinking water is an immediate and serious threat for children in cities across New Jersey and this nation," Pallone said. "This important bill could quickly eliminate a main source of lead in schools, protecting countless schoolchildren. With another school year approaching, we need to take action on these issues as soon as possible."

The proposed bill would authorize $5,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2021 to help replace older fountains and also to supplement the costs of monitoring and reporting lead levels in the drinking water of schools of a local educational agency receiving such funds, as determined appropriate by the administrator.

Those voicing support for the legislation were Nina Arce, communication coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Network; Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action; and Elyse Pivnik of the Director of Environmental Health, Isles.

In February, Pallone introduced the AQUA Act, which significantly increases water infrastructure funding authorization levels so local communities can repair and replace their aging water systems to ensure residents have access to clean and safe drinking water.

Earlier this year, Pallone led his colleagues in sending a letter to Cathleen Bennett, acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH), asking for more information on the federal funding the state receives to help detect dangerous levels of lead in communities. Pallone asked for information on exactly how these funds are used and if additional resources are needed to combat this serious public health challenge. The Christie administration has not responded to the letter, according to Pallone.

Pallone also sent letters to the New Jersey Department of Health and New Jersey Department of Human Services raising questions about the management of a program to provide lead poisoning screenings for pregnant women, children and uninsured adults in counties impacted by Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey earmarked $11.7 million of funding for increasing access to blood lead screening and case management to address "new environmental hazards in New Jersey Homes" created by superstorm Sandy.

Yet, it appears that the state has only tested a fraction of the 220,000 individuals that it planned to screen annually for lead poisoning. The Christie administration has not responded to the letters, according to Pallone.

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