Illinois moves forward with critical rules to address lead in water at child care facilities

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager.

Last week, EDF submitted comments to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on the state’s proposed rules for lead in water testing at licensed child care facilities. Our comments focused on what we learned from our pilot in 11 child care facilities, including 4 in the Chicago area.

Even at very low levels, lead can impair brain development, contributing to learning and behavioral problems as well as lower IQs. While national attention on lead in drinking water has spurred action in schools, few states have addressed lead in water in child care settings – even though these facilities serve children at younger, more vulnerable ages.

Illinois is one of seven states that EDF has highlighted in a previous blog for requiring lead in water testing in child care facilities. In January 2017, Illinois General Assembly enacted SB550, establishing a new set of requirements to address lead in drinking water in the state. Under the legislation, Illinois was required to adopt rules prescribing the procedures and standards to assess lead in water in licensed day care homes, day care centers, and group day care homes (herein after “child care facilities”).

Illinois’ proposed rules would require all licensed child care facilities to test for lead using an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA)-certified laboratory and develop a mitigation and implementation plan if any lead is detected (although there is some ambiguity as to the exact action level).  If lead is detected, resampling would be required after six months and every year thereafter until at least two consecutive tests indicate no lead.

Over the past year, EDF conducted a pilot project on testing and remediating lead in water at 11 child care facilities in four states, including four facilities in Chicago. We recently released a report that summarizes our findings and provides best practices and recommendations for testing and reducing lead in water. We recommend that mandatory testing requirements include:

  • Replacing lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipe connecting the main under the street to a building – in child care facilities when found, regardless of testing results.
  • Using an accredited lab for lead in water analysis until further research on portable meters confirms that they can be used reliably.
  • Setting an action level of 5 ppb or below to investigate and remediate interior lead sources.
  • Specifying practical and effective remediation options for lead at the tap – such as fixture replacement, flushing, aerator cleaning with vinegar, and filtration – but allowing facilities flexibility in developing their own remediation plans.
  • Resampling fixtures after remediation steps are employed.

We applaud Illinois’ leadership in this space, including use of a low action level, but encourage DCFS to make a number of changes when finalizing the rules based on our above recommendations.

The proposed rules do not address the problem of LSLs.  While replacing LSLs is the best solution, we recommend – at a minimum – that child care facilities should be required to identify whether or not they have an LSL through simple steps such as reviewing historical records and conducting a visual inspection to better understand their facility’s risk of lead exposure (regardless of lead in water testing results) and pursue appropriate mitigation steps. It may be appropriate for communities and/or water utilities to fund LSL replacements at child care facilities – as they are a clear priority location for LSL replacement.

LSLs can unpredictably release particulate lead into the water, which can complicate testing for lead sources at fixtures.  While LSLs are unlikely to be found at larger facilities, they may be expected at smaller facilities, especially home-based child care. According to a 2016 study conducted by the American Water Works Association, Illinois has more LSLs than any other state in the U.S. Many of these LSLs are located in Chicago, where the city’s building code mandated their use on lines up to 2” in diameter until 1986 when they were banned by Congress.

The proposed rule also provides little guidance to child care providers on how to conduct sampling and develop an effective mitigation and implementation plan. We recommend that the final rule specify the types of water samples to be collected; practical and effective remediation options (e.g., fixture replacement, flushing, aerator cleaning with vinegar, and filtration); and criteria for an effective mitigation and implementation plan.

Check out our full comments here for more details.

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One Comment

  1. Henry
    Posted July 29, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I am glad to see this initiative taken. The MD Pediatric Association has established even lower levels of acceptable potable water lead content. There is a CFM that all states should be have compliance on the copper/lead issue requiring periodic testing. What reporting available to the public seems scarce where positive findings have occurred, including corrective actions taken.

    Although I have of lead ingestion knowledge of research some websites report young children with high levels of lead ingestion may have similar symptoms to those with autism.?