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E.P.A. Urges Testing for Lead In School Water

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Washington--All drinking water in schools should be tested for potentially unhealthy amounts of lead, advises a new manual from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The guidance document, which was sent to state officials last week, also outlines procedures to be used in testing and reducing lead levels.

It calls on school officials immediately to take out of service all water fountains or outlets with lead levels exceeding the agency's proposed standard, which is 20 parts per billion.

Such actions are urgent, officials say, because children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead. Exposure has been linked to learning disabilities and damage to the kidneys and nervous system.

Legislation passed by the Congress last year directed the agency to produce the manual.

The measure also required the Consumer Product Safety Commission by Oct. 31 to order manufacturers of water coolers to recall, repair, or replace all lead-containing units. The agency is expected to publish a list of such coolers in the Federal Register later this month, and to provide the information to state officials. The list will not necessarily be comprehensive, however.

Under the law, by Jan. 31, 1990, schools must repair, replace, remove, or render inoperable any coolers that have not been tested and found not to contribute lead to the drinking water.

Although the law does not require tests of school water outlets, it instructs states to establish programs to help school officials identify and address potential lead problems.

In addition, the law directs schools to notify parent, teacher, and employee organizations that the results of any lead tests are available to their members.

Measuring at the Tap

The manual also explains schools' responsibilities under the epa's proposed lead regulation, which is expected to become final in August or September. The new rule prohibits schools that own their water supply, as well as all other public water suppliers, from having lead levels of more than 5 parts per billion.

The regulation states that levels are to be measured at the point water enters the supplier's distribution system--such as when it leaves the treatment plant--and not at the tap.

Since much lead contamination occurs later in the distribution process--in a school's own pipes, for example--the agency advises officials who believe they may have a lead problem to test water at the points at which it is consumed.

"Once the water supplier has met his responsibility, it will be the school's responsibility," said Peter Lassovszky, an environmental engineer in the agency's office of drinking water.

Mr. Lassovszky said the epa will hold training sessions on testing for school officials in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Seattle later this year.

State officials are required to distribute the new manual to school officials by the end of July.

The Congress authorized $30 million a year for three years to pay for the program, but funds have not yet been appropriated.--ef

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