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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Gets Failing Grade For Lead Exposure In Public Schools

Drinking fountain.
Joseph Thomas Photography
Drinking fountain.

Montana got a failing grade from a national environmental study group Thursday for its lack of policies addressing lead in public schools. 

The second edition of Environment America’s "Get the Lead Out" report, says Montana also received an "F" last time the organization surveyed a number of states, in 2017.

Children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure, and many schools across the state still have fountains and faucets that contain the heavy metal. Right now, most schools aren’t required to test for lead, but some do so voluntarily.

"The EPA estimates that nearly 20 percent of the total exposure comes from drinking water," Julie Dooling, a Republican representative from Helena, told a Montana House Natural Resources Committee hearing in February.

Dooling introduced a bill into the state Legislature late last year that could reduce lead exposure in Montana schools.

In the federal "America’s Water Infrastructure Act" passed last October, Congress allocated $25 million for state lead sampling in school drinking water. Dooling’s bill would allow Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality to secure this funding through a grant program.

Tim Davis, the DEQ’s water quality division administrator, supports the bill and says the state is already in talks with the EPA and other potential sources of funding for lead testing and reduction.

"There may be schools that have significantly high levels of lead," Davis says.

In an Environment Montana survey published last year, more than 75 percent of tests in school districts in Montana’s four most populous cities found lead over one part per billion in drinking water. The EPA says no lead is safe, but only requires action after 15 parts per billion. Some schools tested much higher than this limit.

In addition to DEQ, the state health department, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, Montana Rural Water Systems, the Northern Plains Resource Council, Montana Conservation Voters and the Montana Environmental Information Center all voiced support of the bill at the February hearing. No opponents spoke at the meeting.

Dooling’s bill was tabled late last month.

More than 20 other states received an "F" in the Environment America report.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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