TMA Written Testimony
House Public Education Committee
House Bill 997 by Rep. Nicole Collier
April 16, 2019
The Texas Medical Association, representing nearly 53,000 physicians and medical students, appreciates the opportunity to submit our comments in support of House Bill 997 by Representative Collier.
HB 997 will establish important requirements for testing and monitoring the levels of lead in the drinking water in our public and open enrollment charter schools. We have many aging school facilities in Texas, and while school districts have had the authority to test drinking water quality, they may not have the resources or community support to ensure lead testing is adequate. Guidance to implement the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to monitor contaminants in drinking water has been available for some time, but lead exposure for children remains a special concern in every community.
All Texans understand they need water for their daily activities, but physicians recognize access to clean, safe drinking water as fundamental to health. Each of us is exposed to lead in the environment – but some of us have a higher level of lead exposure because of where we work or live. The effects of lead in children are well researched, and we know that children under age 6 are most susceptible to neurological damage, which can result in permanent mental- and physical-development disabilities. A child is at much higher risk of neurological damage with long-term exposure to lead in his or her school’s water supply. If the child already has a health disorder, exposure to lead can further exacerbate his or her condition.
While not addressed in HB 997, a critical component of the Safe Drinking Water Act is ensuring the development of a plan and strategy for lead testing in our schools. We endorse such planning and call for a collaboration in the rules development process among the Texas Education Agency; the Texas Department of State Health Services; and other stakeholders including teachers, school nurses, local public health officials, parents, and physicians. The rules must ensure a strong role for parents and the public so that all can be better informed on the testing requirements and prevention measures. The rules also must delineate how often a school must test and outline the requirement for short- and long-term mitigation if testing indicates lead is detected at or above the federal alert level. We believe the school health advisory committees at the district and campus levels can play a role in ensuring parental involvement and guaranteeing that lead testing is conducted as required, and that the results are shared with the school community and the public.
Our communities and residents must be well-informed about the need for strong monitoring of drinking water quality and safety. Every day we encourage our patients to turn away from sugar-sweetened beverages and drink more water, but our best efforts to support their health or help them recover from an illness are moot if these patients, many young children, do not have access to safe drinking water.
We thank Representative Collier for bringing this important issue forward again for your consideration. While our state has long granted the executive commissioner the authority to implement the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, schools and school districts have been responsible for addressing lead levels in their water, and other environmental concerns. Safe drinking water is a critical public health issue, and we look forward to working with you on the implementation of HB 997 to protect our students.
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