SALT LAKE CITY — The Environmental Protection Agency awarded Utah's environmental quality department $434,000 to pay for lead testing of the water of Utah schools and childcare facilities, officials said Tuesday.
Officials at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality said administrators for public and charter schools, Head Start programs and licensed childcare facilities have until March 31 to apply for federal grant money to cover lead testing in their schools. Grants will be awarded in order of applications filed. All results must be made public, and private schools aren’t eligible for the program.
“We are committed to providing all Utah children with safe drinking water. Schools and childcare programs that test their buildings for lead reduce children’s risk of exposure and ensure a lead-free learning environment,” Marie Owens, the department’s drinking water director, said in a statement.
The money allocated to Utah is from the EPA’s Lead Testing in School and Child Care Program Drinking Water Grant program. According to the federal agency, about $43.7 million in funding was delivered to various states, territories and tribes. The program focuses on funding for lead testing in schools throughout those areas.
Utah environmental quality officials say that’s especially important for young children and infants, who are at risk for brain damage and delays in physical and mental development when exposed to the metal. They say it’s also concerning because many young children in Utah spend time in school or childcare facilities.
The agency launched its Lead-Free Learning Initiative last week, which is where the federal money went. According to the department, schools and childcare facilities are only required to test for lead if they serve as a public water system, and most school facilities don't. Some schools have done testing on their own, and the department launched a pilot project sampling for lead in schools in 2017.
The state project is slated to end on Sept. 30, 2021. School and childcare administrators interested in applying for testing can do so on the state program’s website.