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Health Department Will Test Schools For Lead Before End Of Year

Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine speaks to Senate Education Committee while seated at a table and others gathered around.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Health commissioner Mark Levine told the Senate Education Committee that the state would work with outside labs and hire staff to make sure every school could be tested this year. The Scott Administration this week asked for $1.3 million for the testing.

After saying it could take three years to test the drinking water at every school in Vermont for lead, the Department of Health now says it will finish testing by the end of the year.Gov. Phil Scott this week asked the legislature for $1.3 million for the testing. Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state would work with outside laboratories and consider hiring extra staff to make sure the tests are completed before the end of the year.

“We envision this program including all of the schools in Vermont,” Levine said. “Everyone has an equal opportunity to have lead free drinking water within a time frame that is reasonable.”

Levine testified Wednesday in front of the Senate Education Committee where lawmakers are considering a bill establishing guidelines for the testing program.

Last year the health department tested the water at 16 schools as part of a pilot study and found traces of lead in every school.

"We envision this program including all of the schools in Vermont. Everyone has an equal opportunity to have lead free drinking water within a time frame that is reasonable." - Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont health commissioner

At five of those schools, there was enough lead in the water to require immediate action.

“We were all alarmed by the results,” said State Sen. Phil Baruth, chairman of the Education Committee. “Lead is a highly toxic metal, especially for kids, and this is the highest priority for this committee.”

The $1.3 million the administration is seeking should cover the first round of testing, but it was not clear at the hearing if that money would cover follow-up testing after remediation efforts are complete.

The committee is also considering having the state test water at licensed childcare centers, which could be costly, and lowering the threshold for deeming water contaminated.

The Department of Health has set a level of 15 parts per billion, which is the level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics has set the level at one part per billion, and Baruth said the committee will likely settle on a compromise threshold.

“We should have scientific based standards in the law,” said Baruth. “Everyone agrees that 15 parts per billion is ludicrous."”

Lowering the threshold would have wide ranging impacts, forcing more schools to take on expensive projects to remove pipes leaching lead into the water

Baruth said the state will also need to find funding to help schools with that work.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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