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June 20, 2022

New ordinance requires School District of Philadelphia to install water fountains with lead filtration by 2025

Councilmember Helen Gym introduced the bill that mandates the change; it passed unanimously in City Council

Government Education
Philly schools lead water Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

All Philadelphia public schools will have lead-filtering water fountains installed by 2025. The upgrade is required by a bill passed by Philadelphia City Council last week. Each school is required to have one hydration station per 100 students in the building.

All School District of Philadelphia schools will have lead-filtering hydration stations installed by 2025 to replace existing water fountains.

The upgrade is required by a bill unanimously passed by Philadelphia City Council last week. It requires all facilities maintained by school district have these new fountains to ensure students have clean drinking water at school. Each school is required to have one hydration station per 100 students in the building.

The legislation was introduced by Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym in March, and members voted to pass it during Thursday's council session.

When Gym introduced the legislation, she said, "Every child deserves safe, clean drinking water, and the pandemic underscored the need for higher standards for public health. We want every student, every family, and every school community to feel confident in knowing the water they drink is lead-free."

Since her election to City Council in 2016, Gym has advocated for clean water for all students in Philadelphia.

"In 2022, it's not too much to ask that schoolchildren have drinking water that is entirely lead-free – it should be essential ... We will continue to organize with school communities across this city, fighting for healthy learning environments for every student," Gym said. She worked with PennPIRG and PennEnvironment on her legislation.

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment's Research & Policy Center, said in May that, "Schools should be safe places where our kids go to learn, achieve, and grow up to be productive citizens in society. Councilmember Gym's legislation goes a long way towards helping achieve that goal and making Philadelphia a national leader in the effort to address the threat of lead in school drinking water."

Back in February, PennPIRG, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, and the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality released a study showing that 98% of the water outlets inside the city's public schools, that the group's researchers examined, tested positive for lead.

Across the school district, it is estimated that 60% of all water outlets in school buildings contained lead.

School district officials called the study misleading, in part because the PennPIRG data included detected lead levels as low as 1 part per billion. The city's threshold for lead in drinking water is 10 parts per billion in schools, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's safety threshold in 20 parts per billion.

If a water fountain or outlet is found to exceed the district's threshold, it is immediately turned off so it can no longer be used, school officials said.

Philadelphia is the third city and school district in the United States to require the lead-filtering water fountains in schools. Emma Horst-Martz, of PennPIRG Education Fund, said.

"With the passage of (the) bill Philadelphia becomes a leader in protecting kids from lead in their school drinking water," Horst-Martz said. "Rather than testing and remediating already contaminated drinking fountains, the new, lead-filtering fountains will prevent kids from being exposed to lead in the first place."

The School District of Philadelphia has proposed $6.2 million for the hydration stations as a part of the 2022-23 budget. To date the school system had already replace more than 1300 water fountains. The additional money budgeted will pay to replace 800 more, bringing the total number of new hydration stations install to 2,100 by the 2025 deadline.

"This win, in this new law, is going to make huge strides towards protecting the children in their schools all across Philadelphia, said Pastor Willie Francois, president of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. "And it will guarantee that schools remain the safe spaces – sanctuaries – they deserve, and we have a moral duty to provide."

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