OLYMPIA— Legislation protecting Washington’s children from lead in their school’s drinking water is headed to the Governor’s desk. On Sunday, April 11, House Bill 1139, sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet, (D-46th District) passed the Senate with unanimous support following four years of effort.
House Bill 1139 establishes a 2026 deadline for the Department of Health to test all faucets used for drinking water or in food preparation in public schools. Parents will now be notified of results when elevated lead levels are found.
Schools will be required to develop action plans to reduce all lead levels to below five parts per billion (ppb). With the governor’s signature, Washington state will have one of the strongest protections for school children in the nation for a major environmental justice issue.
“Kids go to school to learn,” said Pollet, who is also a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “The water they drink in school shouldn’t reduce their IQ and ability to learn. The water our children drink shouldn’t cause lifelong behavioral and other health effects. Research has shown us repeatedly just how harmful lead is to kids. Even low levels of exposure lead to neurological and developmental problems. Parents need and deserve to know we have a plan to address the problem. We are finally stepping up to protect Washington students.”
An analysis by a UW School of Public Health graduate student Molly Codding showed that 82 percent of participating schools had at least one faucet or fountain with lead levels of at least 5 ppb, and 49 percent had a faucet with lead levels over 15 ppb.
The FDA’s standard for lead in bottled water is 5 ppb. Numerous schools had lead levels well over 100 ppb, and two schools had levels over 1,000 ppb.
There were 551 schools that participated in the voluntary testing conducted by the Washington Department of Health and Seattle Public Schools. About 2,000 schools remain to be tested.
Schools with elevated lead will adopt an action plan under House Bill 1139. Installing certified filters or replacing valves usually succeed in remediating lead levels to below 5 ppb. These costs are typically under $4,000 per school.
“State Superintendent Reykdal has been an incredible champion for the program to sample and provide the funding to eliminate lead exposure to our children in their school water,” Pollet said. “The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has been awarding grants to schools to remediate lead for several years, and the director of that program, Tyler Muench, provided invaluable technical assistance to the legislative committees’ understanding.”
House Bill 1139 is named in honor of Bruce Speight, longtime Executive Director of the Washington Public Interest Group (WashPIRG) and Environment Washington who championed this effort for several years before passing away to cancer.
The bill had some technical amendments in the Senate, which are expected to be concurred in by the House, with the bill then sent to Governor Inslee to sign.