Senator Joan B. Lovely
State Senator
2nd Essex District


October 30, 2019

Anti-lead advocates stress need for urgent action at committee hearing

Ehrlich, Lovely, advocates urge favorable report on H. 774 / S.500

(BOSTON) – State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) and State Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem) testified Tuesday before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture in support of H.774 / S.500, An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools. The bill, heard by the Committee for the first time this session, would set the Commonwealth on a clear path to removing lead from drinking water in schools and early childcare centers across Massachusetts.

“Students and their teachers deserve drinking water that doesn’t poison them when they go to school,” said Rep. Ehrlich (D-Marblehead).  “Now that test results have given us the contours of the public health crisis it is time to act.”

“The strong turnout and testimony by elected officials and environmental advocates alike at the Environmental Committee hearing demonstrate the wisdom of de-leading the Commonwealth’s school drinking water,” said Senator Lovely (D-Salem). “The inclusion of $5 million in the supplemental budget represents an important down payment that passage of the bills that Rep. Ehrlich and I filed will help realize to ensure that Massachusetts students can get educated without drinking toxins when using school water fountains.”

Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and exposure to lead has been linked to a variety of health problems, including intellectual and behavioral disabilities, lowered IQ, stunted growth, hearing loss, and anemia. There is no safe level of lead exposure according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposed children face particular high levels of harm given that lead accumulates at greater concentrations in the body over time with repeated exposures.

The hearing follows passage of the FY 2019 Supplementary Budget in both the House and the Senate, with both versions authorizing $5 million to filter school and early childhood center drinking water in communities throughout the state. The Environmental Protection Agency also announced the award of a $967,000 grant to the state Department of Environmental Protection for testing school drinking water for lead.

“Children are at especially high risk of serious harm from lead poisoning because lead is particularly toxic to their rapidly growing and developing brains, and it can seriously alter a child’s ability to learn, communicate, pay attention, and control their behavior,” testified Sean Palfrey, MD, Medical Director, Boston Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, Boston Medical Center. “Studies show that there is no safe level of lead, and it can not only harm a child for the rest of his or her life, but can be passed from a mother to her children years after an original exposure.”

“Everyone should have access to clean, safe drinking water — especially our kids, whose health is most at risk from lead pollution,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “With thousands of tests showing lead in Massachusetts’ schools, we can’t afford to waste any time to protect children from this clear health threat.”

“We know the health and safety of our children is priceless. Time and time again, Massachusetts has been a leader in protecting our children’s health and safety,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG. “We hope that leadership is extended once again and make getting the lead out of our schools’ water a priority in this legislative session.”    

H.774/S.500, An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools, would mandate testing of school drinking water in schools and early education centers across the Commonwealth. Additionally, the bills direct those institutions to follow a clear process to prevent students, faculty, and staff from drinking water with lead found present at a rate of one part per billion or more. The current action level for lead in Massachusetts is 15 parts per billion, but no amount of lead is safe.

Advocates and sponsors of this bill hope that the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture will recognize the seriousness of H.774/S.500 and report them out of committee favorably as soon as possible.