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Lead found in water at 90% of Utah schools sampled, now DEQ wants to test it all

DEQ sampling finds lead in Utah school water (Photo: KUTV)
DEQ sampling finds lead in Utah school water (Photo: KUTV)
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Utah lawmakers are pushing for the state to take a closer look at lead in our water, specifically at schools and child care centers.

Currently, there is no requirement to test lead levels in schools.

Representative Stephen Handy and Senator Jani Iwamoto want to change that.

House Bill 88, sponsored by Handy, would require lead testing for drinking water for all schools and child care centers. The results would be made public and, if a school tested above a certain level, action would be required.

Iwamoto drafted a joint resolution to encourage action to reduce the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The Utah Division of Environmental Quality Division of Drinking Water took a voluntary school water sample back in 2017. They tested 75% of Utah schools.

“We found that there is lead that it is showing up in the schools,” said Marie Owens, director of the division of drinking water.

Ninety percent of the school samples showed trace levels of lead. Only 2% had more than 15 parts per billion.

“We didn’t find that we could correlate high levels with the age of the schools or with the area of the state,” Owens said.

“There’s no safe levels of lead in anybody’s body, but it’s especially toxic to the developing brain of a young child,” Claudia Fruin said.

She’s a pediatrician and the founder of Utah Lead Coalition. In the past two years, she’s been working with medical providers to encourage lead testing in Utah children.

“About 2% of children tested and reported in our state have elevated lead levels, which is an alarming number,” Fruin said.

Lead exposure, Fruin said, is known to cause developmental delays and behavioral disorders in children. She and Owens are working with Rep. Handy and Sen. Iwamoto to bring awareness to the issue.

“If our children have never been tested, we have no baseline to see where it may be coming from,” Fruin said.

They would like to see children regularly being tested for lead and schools to be examined closer.

“I would like to see every single consumable tap in every school and every child care facility in the state tested so that we could mitigate the high occurrences,” Owens said. “For us to fail to collect the data and understand what the risk is to children in Utah is irresponsible.”

The DEQ was just awarded a $434,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to cover the cost of testing in schools. If an agency is interested, they can apply through the DEQ.

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