By Ben Burstein
Capital News Service
RICHMOND - Over 5,000 child care facilities around the state must start testing their drinking water for lead or use bottled water under a bill approved by the Virginia Senate.
SB 1622, introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, would require licensed child care facilities and other programs that serve preschoolers to implement a plan to test their potable water to ensure lead levels do not exceed 15 parts per billion. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday and has been sent to the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.
The high priority sources of lead come from drinking fountains and various sinks and faucets, according to the bill.
Older infrastructure has a higher risk of lead contamination due to lead pipes that were used until the 1980s. The bill also outlines the testing and follow-up process, in addition to establishing a method of reporting information to parents and state authorities.
Facilities would be required to test every six months in accordance with state and federal standards. They could opt out by using an alternate water source that meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, such as bottled water. Child care centers are required to notify parents of children if they decide not to perform testing.
Facilities would have to notify the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water if they went that route.
Initial testing results and proof of remediation would be reported to the same departments. According to the bill, once lead is brought under 15 parts per billion, facilities continue to test the water every six months.
More than 5,850 child care facilities statewide could be impacted by the legislation, state officials said. The Virginia Department of Health estimated that each facility has three to 15 water sources to test. The VDH also estimated that 50 percent of facilities would choose not to test and instead use an alternate source, such as bottled water.
Water containing lead can be especially harmful to developing children. High levels of lead in blood or prolonged exposure can affect the nervous system and cause developmental problems and learning disabilities, according to the VDH.
State outreach has cranked up in recent years to help raise awareness about lead in drinking water. The VDH created the “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities” to guide school officials to “train, test, and take action” if lead is detected in the water.
Maribeth Brewster, director of the office of communications for VDH, declined to provide comment on the story, citing the ongoing legislative process.
A bill introduced by McPike was signed into law in 2017, requiring Virginia schools -- with special emphasis on schools built before 1986 -- to test potable water.