On the heels of a recent report from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in which the state found that 164 public schools in a study of 300 schools had drinking water or water used in food preparation with lead levels above permissible regulatory limits of 15 parts per billion, two Massachusetts legislators have proposed a bill to try to protect children from lead in school drinking water. The legislation, entitled An Act Ensuring Safe Drinking Water At Schools and Early Childhood Programs (S.456), was proposed by Senator Joan Lovely and State Representative Lori Ehrlich and has 79 co-sponsors.

The bill would require the state to remove any water service lines found to contain lead that service either public or private schools, as well as early childhood care programs. The bill ambitiously aims to have all such service lines replaced within three years. The bill would also require annual water testing in both schools and early childhood care programs. Any school or care program that tests positive for elevated lead levels would be required to install lead filters on all faucets and fountains until a permanent solution can be achieved. Finally, the bill proposes that the action level for remediation in Massachusetts be set at 1 part per billion of lead, which is stricter than the current federal action level of 15 parts per billion.

Since the 1970s, considerable attention has been given to concerns over elevated blood lead levels in children, especially those under the age of six. As a result, the federal government and states enacted regulations regarding the permissible level of lead in drinking water. As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ recent findings show, though, the potential for exposure to lead particles at higher than permissible levels continues to this day, nearly four decades after significant legislation regarding lead was promulgated.

The most notable target of federal and state regulations regarding lead involved the lead paint industry. Prior to 1978, lead was used as one ingredient in the manufacturing process of paint in the United States. Homes built prior to 1978 likely utilized paint products that contained lead. Over time, the paint products peel, chip, or flake, creating a risk of lead paint ingestion for children. Given that rooms in homes are typically repainted when normal renovations or maintenance is performed, lead paint used in millions of homes built prior to 1978 remained there for decades. As these homes age and the paint naturally wears away, the potential for children to ingest paint chips containing lead increases.

Whenever a child’s blood lead levels show elevated lead in the blood, the easiest target for plaintiffs’ attorneys are homeowners, property managers, and landlords. This is due in large part to strict laws in many states that hold homeowners and landlords liable for elevated blood lead levels in children (whether the child shows any signs of developmental delay or not) if the child resided in the home and there was lead present in the paint in the home. In Massachusetts alone, there were 3,700 reported cases of elevated blood lead levels in 2015. As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ recent findings show, looking only to lead paint as the possible cause of elevated blood lead levels is unfair to homeowners and landlords given the number of other potential sources for exposure to lead that a child might have.

It is important for landlords, home owners, and property managers to take appropriate steps to test for or monitor the conditions of lead paint in their homes, and steps must be taken to notify tenants of potential lead paint hazards in order to comply with state and federal law. If you are a homeowner, landlord, or property owner, there are ways to mitigate the risk of being sued for lead paint claims and CMBG3 Law LLC can provide counsel to you on these subjects.

John Gardella has represented clients in lead poisoning claims, including defending homeowners, landlords, and property managers in Housing Court and Superior Court. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Gardella (email him or 617-936-4353, ext. 204).