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MT Takes Comments on Requiring Schools to Test for Lead

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels in drinking water not exceed one part per billion in schools. (Rafael Ben-Ari/Adobe Stock)
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels in drinking water not exceed one part per billion in schools. (Rafael Ben-Ari/Adobe Stock)
August 27, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – A proposed rule change in Montana would require schools to test for contaminants like lead in their water systems every quarter. The state Department of Health and Human Services originally planned on taking comments until July, but has extended the cutoff to mid-September.

Skye Borden, director of Environment Montana, said the state doesn't require schools to test or report lead levels in their water systems, and the proposed rule would put the state "light-years ahead" of where it is now.

"For those who do choose to voluntarily test for lead, if they get a bad result, there's no legal requirement for them to do anything about it, or tell anyone,” Borden said. “I think that's a significant problem. It's a big loophole that we have right now that really creates some unnecessary dangers for students."

The rule change would require schools to treat water systems when lead levels are at or above 5 parts per billion. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels do not exceed 1 part per billion in schools.

In 2018, Environment Montana analyzed voluntary test results from school districts in the state's four largest cities between 2016 and 2018. It found three-quarters of them contained lead above 1 part per billion. Borden said the limit the state has set in this rule change is good - well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommended limit of 15 parts per billion – but, she noted Montana could go further, because lead at any level impacts children's health.

"The EPA itself estimates that 24 million American children growing up today will lose IQ points as a result of low levels of lead exposure,” she said. “So, we really need to be thinking beyond the EPA cutoff when it comes to creating a safe environment for our kids."

Borden noted lead exposure can lead to hearing loss, shorter stature and decreased function and formation of blood cells. Public comments must be submitted to the Department of Public Health and Human Services by Sept. 16.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT