Local delegate calling for stricter guidelines when testing for lead in school water

Posted at 2:33 PM, Jan 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-17 10:19:33-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A local delegate is trying to enact stricter legislation when testing for lead in school water.

Delegate Alex Askew said he was inspired after elevated levels of lead were found in drinking water at multiple Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

“I think that’s where people start to go into a sort of a panic,” he told News 3 reporter Brian Hill.

It was a common concern late last year among Del. Askew and his constituents.

“No one thinks their student is going to school and not have safe levels of drinking water,” he explained.

Last November, the school district revealed they found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in more than 20 schools.

However, they tell us those levels were not high enough to pose a risk for children.

“I was a little taken aback and concerned,” Del. Askew explained.

As a result, during this year’s General Assembly, Del. Askew put forth two bills regarding testing for lead.

One would require school districts “to notify parents if testing results indicate lead contamination that exceeds the maximum contaminant level goals set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”

“I think that was the biggest part because they weren't aware until maybe a month or so after the test,” Askew explained regarding HB797.

It’d also require school districts across the state to report their findings to the Department of Health.

Virginia Beach school administrators worked with Del. Askew in writing the policies.

VBCPS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence said in testing their schools, they realized multiple challenges in current legislation.

“The language that came from the state as a result of previous legislation was very general,” Dr. Spence explained. “It basically said, ‘School divisions, you have to test your water,’ and that was it.”

Dr. Spence said there two main challenges they dealt with.

“One was the lack of clear guidance about what are the lead levels that should be actionable. The second thing was really the lack of any clear guidance about the testing process itself,” Dr. Spence said.

He said they are still testing lead levels at the schools built prior to 1986.

“One of the things we’ve asked for is the use of the EPA’s '3Ts' testing protocol that we have discovered during our review of our processes that is a very good, clear and concise document, and our hope is that is what we move forward with at the state level.”

A 2017 state law requires all public schools test drinking water, focusing more so on schools built in or before 1986.

However, the delegate’s second bill, HB799, would require preschools and daycares - which are mostly private - to start testing.

“I grew up there and we want all our children to have acceptable drinking water,” Del. Askew said.

Those facilities could opt out but would have to only provide children with bottled water.

If these two bills make it to the governor’s desk, they’ll go into effect in July of 2021.