School Districts Across Tennessee Now Testing For Lead In Water | Nashville Public Radio

School Districts Across Tennessee Now Testing For Lead In Water

Jan 16, 2019

A new state law that went into effect this month now requires school districts across the state to develop plans to test for lead contamination in drinking water. All public schools built before 1998 must test at least once every two years.

The state's Department of Education sent out a guidance to districts in December on how to implement this policy, working with environmental and health officials on the guidance, said Chandler Hopper, deputy director of communications at the department.

In terms of enforcing the law, Hopper told WPLN, "The law is specific to action that must be taken by a school district, and it does not specify a role for the state." 

She said the guidance does not include dates by which school boards have to have policies in place or testing must commence. Among the 1,800 public schools in Tennessee, Hopper said, "We do not have an overall building count nor a count of facilities that were built prior to Jan. 1, 1998."

The law passed last year following increased scrutiny over Metro Nashville Public Schools' failure to notify parents that they had found elevated levels of lead in some schools’ water.

Metro Nashville has been doing testing since at least 2016, but the majority of school systems in the state haven’t been, according to NewsChannel 5. Those include Rutherford County Schools, where district spokesman James Evans says he doesn't think the new law will be much of a burden.

"What I think is great about this policy is that, since we are doing this routinely now as part of this, it will help alert us to any sort of issues. Of course we don’t want to put any students or employees in danger," Evans said.

He says his district can easily fold this task into existing operations because it's large enough to have its own engineering staff.

"We do have an engineering and construction department already. They will be doing is as part of their other tests they do for other things," he said.

If schools find their lead levels exceed state standards, they must tell education, health and environmental officials within 24 hours and notify parents within five business days.