Inslee orders steps to reduce lead exposure in state

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SEATTLE (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered a review of an unenforced and unfunded rule requiring schools to test water for lead following a week where unsafe levels of the toxic chemical were found in the drinking water at 13 Tacoma schools.

The state rule was passed in 2009, but it was never given money to be implemented. Inslee's order directs the state Department of Health to estimate the cost of testing every school for lead along with other environmental health risks such as mold, and it asks the department to bring a proposal to the Legislature for doing so.

In a news conference Monday, state health officials said that in 2009, such testing was expected to cost $5 million.

Children in Washington have "some of the lowest blood lead levels" compared with other states, Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. But he added the recent tests at Tacoma schools were "definitely concerning."

"We absolutely think testing drinking water is essential and important," he said in reference to the unfunded state rule.

Tacoma Public Schools early last week informed parents of extraordinarily high levels of lead found at Mann and Reed elementary schools in tests done in May 2015 that went unreported and unfixed. The district quickly began a review of tests done between 2013 and this year, finding 13 of 22 tested elementary schools had unsafe levels of lead in certain sources of drinking water. Officials say they plan to retest every school within a month, and they have provided bottled water for affected schools while they fix known issues.

The district is voluntarily testing its water because no state or federal rule requires schools to check for lead in their water.

Inslee also directed the state Department of Health to screen more children at high risk for lead poisoning among other steps that seek to reduce lead exposure in the state.

"This directive will better ensure we're working in coordination and leveraging resources effectively to tackle lead at all its primary sources, whether it's water, paint or soil," Inslee said in a written statement.

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