Jan. 14--A new state bill would require preschools and daycare centers to test drinking water while another bill would require all schools to notify parents of any elevated lead levels in tested water.
The bills were brought forward after 23 Virginia Beach schools tested for high lead levels last fall. Parents were not notified of the levels until more than a month after test results started coming back to staff.
Health officials and medical experts said there was no risk to students or staff.
Virginia Beach's 85th District Del. Alex Askew said the lead results in the city's schools prompted the bills.
Public schools are already required by a 2017 law to test drinking water for lead, prioritizing schools built in or before 1986. The new bill would add onto that law by requiring schools to submit the water test results to the Virginia Department of Health.
"Outside the education system, this is where a lot of (these records) live and they are the experts," Askew said. "I think that's sort of where they can be sure to mitigate and make sure this doesn't happen again."
The requirement that parents be notified of elevated lead levels was a vital addition, Askew said.
"I think it's important that our parents are made aware of any sort of situation in the schools, whether it's a situation with the lead or otherwise," he said. "The last thing we want is for it to become an issue we can't resolve. I think we need to come ahead of it and this legislation would do that."
Testing in preschools and daycare programs would include water from drinking fountains, kitchen taps and sinks. The federal and state standards for lead levels in drinking water are 15 parts per billion. But any exposure to lead "can seriously harm a child's health and cause well-documented adverse effects," according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The proposed law, which would become effective on July 1, 2021, would allow each program to choose whether to implement a testing plan. If programs opt out of water testing, they would be required to provide bottled water or water coolers and notify both the health department and children's parents.
Virginia Beach's elevated lead levels also caught the attention of Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia Beach, who sent a letter to schools Superintendent Aaron Spence in November demanding more information on why parents were not informed sooner.
At the time, school officials said the administration was not informed of the test results until late October. Parents were notified of the levels on Nov. 6.
Current law does not require schools to lower any elevated lead levels as long as the majority (90th percentile) of the water samples test at 15 parts per billion or below. Under this law, Virginia Beach schools were not required to lower lead levels but decided to move forward with decreasing the levels and re-testing the water sources anyway.
Askew said a more strict standard for mitigation could be considered in the future.
"This is a good place to start," he said.