Legislation Would Require Lead Testing In Tennessee Schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - If your child's school doesn't have a plan to test for lead in the water, they may have to develop one.

Tuesday, on the heels of a NewsChannel 5 investigation, a key House committee passed legislation that would require them to do just that.

For the past eight months, we've documented how Metro Schools tested for lead and found levels of the toxic metal, but they never told parents.

Many other districts don't test at all.

All of that would change if this bill becomes law.

"A lot off hard work went into it, a little over a year," said Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville.

After getting a chilly reception last year, Staples found a House education committee that, this year, was suddenly receptive to his legislation.

"Just to clarify, for the record, it is extremely dangerous for children to drink water that has lead in it, correct?" asked Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.

Staples answered, "Yes, ma'am. It is."

Lead is an invisible toxin that can cause learning and behavioral problems in children.

Under Staples' bill, every school district in Tennessee would be forced to develop a plan for testing for lead. The exact details of those testing plans would be left up to each district.

"Will there be pressure? Possibly," Staples said. "But I think if you are on a local school board, you have children at heart and at mind. I think the locals want to do this as well. I think they have a concern about it."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first revealed that Nashville schools tested for lead in its older buildings in 2016.

In some cases, the district found high lead levels, but did nothing with that information for a year.

And many of other districts, we discovered, have no plan at all for testing for the toxic water -- a fact that came as a surprise to some lawmakers.

"What have we been doing before this piece of legislation? Haven't the school boards been taking care of this?" asked Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster.

"No," Staples responded, "school systems don't necessarily test this across our state. So it's not currently happening on a regular basis."

Weaver exclaimed, "Wow!"

Most members of the committee were sympathetic.

"Ultimately our children are the ones we have a responsibility to," said Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis. "We don't whether some child who has lead could have been a scientist, could have been an astronaut, anything."

But one lawmaker was concerned about what he called "unfunded mandates."

"I agree with lead testing, don't have any problem with that," said Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett. "But I just want to make we're not throwing a cost to our boards and our LEAs (local education agencies) that we are not willing to absorb ourselves."

Staples dismissed those concerns.

"When it comes to you measuring the health of a child versus what you say is a financial mandate, which one is more valuable? Obviously, that life and the future of that child."

In the end, Staples' bill passed with no opposition.

Staples' legislation would also require that the results be shared with regulators, as well as with parents -- as does a separate bill by Nashville Rep. Jason Powell.

Both bills still face several hurdles.

Special Section:
NC5 Investigates: Lead in School Water

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