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Bill would create state fund to test schools for lead in drinking water

Currently a state program relies on federal funding for testing schools
A new effort is underway to protect children and their drinking water at school.
Schools shut off water fountains due to lead
Posted at 5:01 PM, Jan 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-17 18:14:40-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A new effort is underway to protect children and their drinking water at school.

WRTV Investigates found hundreds of schools throughout the state that have recently found the toxic metal in their drinking water.
 
A state lawmaker has filed legislation that would free up state money for schools to test for lead.

It can seep into our drinking water through lead pipes, faucets and plumbing fixtures.

PREVIOUS | Schools grapple with how to keep lead out of drinking water

Currently, the Indiana Finance Authority provides lead testing for schools using two federal grants which have $1.2 million left to spend through 2025.

Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond, wants the state to also provide funding.

Rep. Carolyn Jackson filed House Bill 1117 which would create a line item in the state budget for lead testing in public schools.
Rep. Carolyn Jackson filed House Bill 1117 which would create a line item in the state budget for lead testing in public schools.

“Grants run out and grants are not guaranteed that they’re going to be for the same amount,” said Jackson. “They are only able to test so many schools, do so much remediation and then put the other ones on hold until more funds are available. I’m trying to bridge that gap.”

Jackson filed House Bill 1117 which would create a line item in the state budget for lead testing in public schools.

“It basically lays the groundwork for me to come back next session which is a budget session and ask for money to go in that fund so that we can continue to be able to get all the schools tested,” said Jackson.

The bill says the fund would consist of state dollars, grants, as well as gifts or donations.

WRTV Investigates asked if she has a dollar amount in mind for the state fund.

“I do, but I would like to keep that to myself just yet,” said Jackson.

A new report from the Indiana Finance Authority found 36% of schools tested since 2019 had at least one fixture that exceeded the federal action level for lead.

State law requires schools to test for lead, however, WRTV Investigates found many schools aren’t testing a second time or beyond.

A 2019 report found “wide ranging lead contamination in Marion County schools” after 161 schools showed elevated lead levels in the water.

The same report shows as of 2019 all schools had fixed the problems, but WRTV Investigates followed up and found many of those schools haven’t tested in the last four years.

Rep. Jackson said she thinks more schools would test if they had state dollars available.

Garry Holland with the Greater Indianapolis NAACP agrees.

indiana statehouse.png
Indiana Statehouse

"There is not enough resources for schools to test their water,” said Holland. “How can it get done?"

Holland has been working with the Marion County Public Health Department since 2017 to get schools tested.

He supports House Bill 1117 because he believes it would get the state more involved in the problem of lead in schools.

“The state is having skin in the game,” said Holland. “They can actively help those school districts and communities.”

Rep. Jackson has successfully passed two other laws aimed at testing schools and daycares for lead, so she’s confident House Bill 1117 will move forward.

"The reality is if we don't do it we are going to have a bill to pay because we will have children in special education and other problems from lead,” said Jackson.

The bill has been assigned to the Public Health Committee.