Florida lawmakers push to filter water fountains in schools

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Every day, countless students in northeast Florida take a sip from drinking fountains in public schools. Statewide, that has some concerned about what could be in the water. 

Florida Sens. Janet Cruz, Lauren Book and Annette Taddeo have introduced a bill aimed to protect our kids from lead exposure. If passed, the bill would require school districts to install filters on water fountains. 

Doctors say too much lead exposure can lead to serious health problems.

If this were to pass, only schools built before 1986 would be required to have water filters. Lead levels in pipes weren’t regulated until that time.

READ: Florida Bill SB-66

A lot of people, including health experts, are on board with this.

"From a public health standpoint, it's a fantastic idea. And the American Academy of Pediatrics supports it," said Dr. Sunil Joshi.. He is an allergist and immunologist who agreed that high levels of lead exposure can lead to serious health problems, cognitive issues, development delays and even dementia in the long run.

Not only does this bill call for filters to be added in school buildings built before 1986, it also calls for:

  • school leaders to publish a list of all drinking water sources on the district's website
  • the posted info would have to include when the filters were installed and when they are expected to be replaced
  • bar codes would have to be installed on all drinking water sources in schools

The bill goes beyond water fountains. It extends to the kitchen and would require filters to reduce lead in water used for food preparation or cooking.

A Duval County Public Schools spokeswoman said more than 65 percent of schools in the district are over 50 years old based on their original construction dates.

The change to school water fountains could be an expensive one. Previous estimates show that filtering water fountains in Florida's schools could cost around $24 million. 

But it’s a price to pay now that Joshi said could save you in the long run.

"The cost for managing the health of these individuals can go on for years and years at a time. And the cost of health care, of course, goes up. In the big picture, it certainly-spending the money now to prevent issues later is a wise idea," Joshi said.

Lead exposure, especially in kids, can include symptoms that seem rather typical- like headaches, stomach pain, or hyperactivity.

More information from the EPA about lead in drinking water can be found here: What You Should Know About Lead in Drinking Water.

The DCPS spokeswoman released the following information about lead testing in the district's schools:

For all Duval County Public Schools, lead in drinking water standards were first addressed in 1991 after the passage of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. An initial baseline survey of all Duval County Public Schools was subsequently performed, and drinking water fixtures with elevated lead levels were removed. 

Beginning in 1994, additional surveys and follow-up sampling was performed to confirm and eliminate any remaining initial findings. Schools constructed through 2000 were also surveyed. Modifications to the Federal Regulations also occurred in 2000 and 2007, and Duval County Public Schools has complied with the improved water quality standards that again reduced acceptable lead content in fixtures and fittings. 

In regards to water supply, all public water systems are tested frequently and provide annual reports on water quality and contaminants.  Based on the results of any recent projects and/or surveys, no lead abatement actions are required by Duval County Public Schools. If any lead abatement requirement is discovered, then district operations would perform a project to remedy the concern as a high priority.

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