Florida schools built before 1986 would have to install filters in all drinking fountains to remove lead that seeps in from old plumbing, under a bill unanimously passed Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee.
Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa is pushing for the bill after tests found lead in the drinking water in schools around her district. Other districts also have found lead dissolved in drinking water through old lead pipes or lead used to solder copper pipes.
“We have safeguards in place to protect children from lead paint, we protect ourselves with filters on our own refrigerators’ drinking water dispensers, yet we’ve done nothing to keep them from drinking water out of tainted water fountains in our schools on a daily basis,” Cruz said.
Several teachers and environmentalists were at the meeting to support the measure.
“Lead exposure causes diminished intellectual and academic abilities (and) higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders such as ADHD,” said Dr. Ronald Saff of Tallahassee, part of a group called Physicians for Social Responsibility that tested drinking water at the Capitol. “Not only is lead a problem in many schools throughout this state, but it’s also a problem here in the Capitol. We found elevated lead levels in half of the water fountains that we sampled.”
Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley said putting filters in is a good start but schools should eventually replace old plumbing.
“Anybody with eight grandchildren thinks about the future a lot and what that’s going to look like,” Baxley said. “We certainly want them to be sharp and healthy.”
Democratic Sen. Bill Montford is the former school superintendent in Leon County, where lead was also found in school drinking water. He said he couldn’t oppose the bill but raised concerns about the cost to install filters.
“This is a no-brainer, but it’s also a no-brainer that we need the funds,” Montford said.
After the meeting, Cruz said she believes the funding issue is why the bill stalled in the House, but she said she planned to meet with Republican Speaker Jose Oliva to try to get it moving.