California becomes eighth state to require licensed child care centers to test and remediate lead in water

Lindsay McCormick, is a Project Manager. Tom Neltner, J.D., is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Today, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will better protect children in the state from the harmful effects of lead exposure. AB 2370, sponsored by Assembly Member Chris Holden and passed unanimously by state lawmakers, sets forth new requirements for licensed child care centers to test their drinking water for lead and use an alternative source if elevated lead levels are discovered.

EDF recently released a report highlighting child care facilities as a major gap in protecting kids from lead in water. As children under the age of six are most vulnerable to harm from lead, these facilities should be prioritized for reducing exposure. Compared to lead in schools, which has garnered national attention, child care has gone relatively unnoticed.

We applaud California for taking this important step to expand its school lead in water testing mandate to include child care. With the new legislation, California joins seven other states that have enacted such requirements. The state’s approach is largely similar to other states but it has an unusual feature – laboratories must directly report results to the state, which then will post the results online. Most of the details – including the definition of an elevated lead level in drinking water that warrants shutting off the fixture – are left to the state’s child care licensing agency to define in rulemaking.  

California’s new law requires licensed centers built prior to 2010 to test their drinking water for lead between January 2020 and January 2023 and continue testing every five years thereafter. Environmental Working Group (EWG) sponsored the legislation (as part of a suite of California bills addressing lead) as well as the accompanying budget appropriation. Notable aspects of California’s requirement and key differences between other states with child care lead in water testing requirements include:

  • Reporting and notification: Like several of the other states, California’s new law requires facilities to notify parents of the testing and results. However, California has gone a step further by requiring labs to electronically report results directly to the State Water Resources Control Board – which then will make testing results available online. To our knowledge, only New York City, and no other state is currently publicly posting child care lead in water test results.
  • Funding: Notably, California is providing financial support for some facilities through grants from the State Water Resources Control Board. $5 million was approved in the state’s latest budget to cover testing, remediation, and technical assistance. Funding priority will go to centers that serve younger children, have 50% or more children receiving subsidized care, and are not “chain” centers.
  • Facilities covered: Unfortunately, California’s new law is limited to child care centers, excluding those family home-based child care facilities that are more likely to have lead service lines (LSLs). This differs from several other recent state requirements, such as those in Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon, which apply more broadly to both centers and home-based facilities.
  • Sampling frequency: Resampling is important to demonstrate reduced lead levels over time. California’s new law requires resampling just every 5 years. This is consistent with several other states, such as New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington, which each require resampling every 5-6 years.  In contrast, Illinois and Connecticut require resampling every year or two years, respectively.

Most of the specifics – including sampling protocol, requirements to ensure the collection and submission of valid water samples, the standard for action (i.e., what is an “elevated lead level” that triggers action), and remediation requirements – remain to be defined through regulations. The State Department of Social Services, in consultation with the State Water Resources Control Board, is required to promulgate such rules by January 2021. In implementing the law, we encourage California to develop robust regulations, specifically by:

  • Adopting a health-protective standard to define an elevated lead level. Based on our pilot project, EDF recommends 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. The rules should provide remediation options (such as fixture replacement, flushing, aerator cleaning with vinegar, and filtration), but allow facilities flexibility in developing their own remediation plans.
  • Incorporating lead service line investigation and removal. When present, LSLs are the largest source of lead in water – and can unpredictably release lead particulates into water. If identified, the facility should work with the local water utility to remove the LSL. California recognized this issue when it enacted SB 1398, which requires the development of LSL inventories and a plan for their removal (though its impact may be limited by the statute’s definition of service line, learn more here). It is unclear how the implementation of AB 2370 and SB 1398 will be coordinated; ideally, LSL replacement at child care facilities would be prioritized.

With over 700,000 children in licensed facilities in California, the new legislation is an important step to better protecting young kids. EDF encourages other states to follow California’s leadership and implement similar requirements for testing and remediation in child care facilities.

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One Comment

  1. Patricia J Ritchie
    Posted September 26, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    The public notice rule of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act fails to require parental notification of SDWA violati This rulemaking petition from PEER seeks to remedy the gaping hole: