Mary Cheh
There's a nine-person contest to succeed Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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While most D.C. students are out of school for the summer, local lawmakers are hoping to make the water sources they use and drink from healthier by bolstering requirements for lead testing at public facilities where children spend time outside their homes.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh—who chairs the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment—on Tuesday proposed a bill to do just that during the body’s last legislative session before its summer recess. All 13 members of the Council co-sponsored the legislation, which comes after a hearing in April revealed that several schools had levels of lead in their water sources considered “actionable” according to local and federal standards. Subsequent testing showed that more than 60 public schools had water with such lead levels, of greater than 15 parts per billion. In June, Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s administration said it would order the D.C. Department of General Services, which tests school water, to remediate any found with more than 1 ppb.

Cheh’s legislation largely codifies that new standard, but goes further by including public charter schools and requiring DGS to post all test results and remediation efforts online. The bill also focuses on the population most vulnerable to lead exposure, kids under the age of three, by mandating that licensed child development facilities “install and properly maintain filters for reducing lead at all drinking water sources.” In order to maintain their certifications, the facilities would have to demonstrate to the District proof of compliance. Lead tests would be required annually; the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which oversees child development facilities, would manage a new fund to help sites install filters if it were to pose “an undue financial hardship.”

“Children in the District of Columbia deserve access to safe, clean drinking water, and it is time for the government to adopt a proactive, rather than reactive, strategy towards lead control in our public water sources,” Cheh said in a statement. “To ensure immediate communication with parents and community members”—a lack of which D.C. officials acknowledged when the lead levels came to light—”test results must be posted within five business days. With these new regulations, we are not only setting a national standard but are remedying previous shortcomings in protecting District children.”

In describing the bill, the councilmember added that lawmakers plan to introduce a “Healthy Buildings Act” in the fall to increase the environmental health of the District’s public facilities, many of whose infrastructure has deteriorated since they were opened.

This wasn’t the only pipe-related legislation Cheh proposed yesterday. She also introduced the “Nonwoven Disposable Products Labeling Act of 2016,” which would prohibit manufacturers from advertising items like baby and cleaning wipes as “flushable,” “sewer safe,” or “septic safe,” “unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate” that they are in fact so.