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June 07, 2016

City councilwomen to introduce bills on lead exposure

At Thursday's City Council meeting, will present bills focused on protecting Philadelphia citizens from lead poisoning.

Three city councilwomen have banded together to present measures aimed at preventing lead exposure in Philadelphia. 

Councilwomen Helen Gym (D, At-Large), Blondell Reynolds Brown (D, At-Large) and Cindy Bass (D, 8th District) on Tuesday introduced three bills to be presented for the first time to City Council during its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday. 

Each councilwoman introduced a bill targeting a different way that residents could potentially be exposed to lead. None of the bills focus on the testing methods of the Philadelphia Water Department which were a key component of a lawsuit against the city last week.  

Aimed at preventing schoolchildren's exposure to lead, Gym's bill would require district schools to perform annual lead testing and be certified by the city to show that their drinking water meets safety standards set by the city's Health Department and/or the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Situations like those in Flint and Newark remind us that we must be vigilant because there is still work to be done," Gym said in a statement. "This bill will help us meet the basic human rights of our students, teachers and staff to safe drinking water."

The final wording of Gym's bill is not complete.

Lead contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan is well documented and, in Newark recently, 17,000 school children were tested for lead poisoning after nearly half of the schools there were found to have elevated levels of lead in their drinking water.

A recent article in The Guardian points out that water tested at Philadelphia schools – following a series of tests done in 2000 – found lead levels exceeding "three times the EPA’s legal definition of hazardous waste." 

In the decade following those tests, the school district conducted a safe drinking water program to address these concern, replacing plumbing components that could contain lead and did further testing. According to the school district, 20,000 drinking water "outlets" were tested and as of 2010, "every drinking water outlet in the [school district] is considered lead safe." 

Gym's bill would ensure that drinking water at school district building meet quality standards annually. 

Councilwoman Reynolds Brown's bill would mandate child care centers to be certified as "lead-safe" before earning a license to operate from the Department of Licenses and Inspections. 

Under this bill, cild care centers housed in buildings constructed prior to 1978, would need to be inspected by a certified lead inspector to ensure that the building could be considered safe from lead poisoning from paint and potential water sources. 

While this bill is not final and, Reynolds Brown's office said it could be amended throughout the summer, it would require family and group child care providers to be inspected every two years in order to continue to be certified as "lead safe" and be permitted to operate. 

In a statement, the councilwoman said the measure would help "mitigate this environmental risk to our communities." 

"No parent should ever have to worry that her child might be exposed to lead in child care," her statement said. "This bill is a win-win; it will ensure that no center can open without first ensuring its facility is safe for children." 

The third bill, from Bass, seeks to limit exposure through lead paint, long known as source of lead poisoning in older homes. 

The city's Lead Paint Disclosure Law, enacted in 2012, already requires landlords and property sellers to disclose the existence of possible lead-based paints or lead-based paint hazards in any property dating before 1978. The Bass bill would update that law to include disclosure of any possible lead water service lines in the property. 

The Philadelphia Water Department has said that about about 10 percent of Philadelphia homes – typically those built prior to 1950 – have water service lines constructed with lead.

In a statement, Bass said her measure would provide residents with information about the possibility of lead contamination in their water service lines "for the first time." 

"Our city has made progress on the fight against lead poisoning by giving renters and purchasers the right to lead testing and requiring that landlords and property sellers disclose lead risks," she said in a statement. 

All three bills are expected to get a first reading before City Council on Thursday.