Some Will County schools and day cares are under a deadline by the end of this year to test for lead in drinking water.
In January, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 550, which requires schools and day cares to sample for lead contamination from sources of potable water in their buildings. The law was initiated by the Illinois Environmental Council and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, according to her office.
Public concern over harmful exposure to lead – especially in children – has heightened since the ongoing Flint, Michigan, water crisis. In tests last year, Chicago Public Schools found elevated lead levels in about 3 percent of fixtures.
Shawn Walsh, Will County regional education superintendent, said there will be a cost associated with schools testing for lead, but the real question is whether that cost is offset by the benefit to the community.
“My philosophy is better safe than sorry, so checking is probably not a bad idea,” Walsh said.
The law applies to school buildings constructed on or before Jan. 1, 2000, with students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. It also applies to day cares constructed on or before Jan. 1, 2000, that serve children younger than 6.
School buildings constructed before Jan. 1, 1987, must have water testing finished by the end of the year. The deadline for those constructed between Jan. 2, 1987, and Jan. 1, 2000, is the end of 2018. Samples must be submitted to a laboratory accredited by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Tom Hernandez, Plainfield School District 202 spokesman, said that the district plans to test five schools in May – at a cost estimated to be about $17,000 – and six in 2018. Hernandez also said the district still was seeking clarification from the state on some aspects of the law related to which buildings must be tested.
“We will clearly do everything we can do to keep our children and our staff safe,” he said.
Joliet Public Schools District 86 will test 14 of its schools this year, which is expected to cost between $3,000 and $6,000. Sandy Zalewski, the district’s spokeswoman, stated in an email that maintenance staff will collect samples that will be tested by a lab.
Lincoln-Way High School District 210 officials anticipate that the law will apply to Aunt Nancy’s Child Care, which is located at its three academic buildings. Taryn Atwell, district spokeswoman, said officials have discussed it and will adhere to all regulations in the law.
John Sears, co-owner of Mary Sears Academy, which has a Joliet location, said he thinks the new law is “overkill.”
“We already got aspects to test the lead in the water,” he said.
He said childcare centers do not receive state funding to the extent that schools do and the law is another unfunded mandate from the state.
He said Mary Sears does water tests in its other locations but since its Joliet location is at the Joliet Township High School District 204 administrative center, he would need to know from district officials if it needs testing. District officials still are waiting for clarification on the law.
Fairmont School District 89 had water issues last summer that were unrelated to lead. The district tested the water after it appeared discolored. According to board meeting minutes, the water system was flushed twice.
Samples tested by Suburban Laboratories in Geneva were negative for lead, said Superintendent Lela Bridges-Webb. She said it was determined the water was coming from hot water pipes that were sitting and not being used.
“We were trying to rule out everything because of the discoloration,” she said.