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Bill To Authorize Grants For Lead Tests in Schools

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The Senate last week approved legislation that would authorize federal funding of tests for lead contamination in older elementary schools and day-care centers, but some education groups warned that the measure would only fuel public fears about lead in schools.

By a 97-to-1 vote, the Senate cleared legislation introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that includes various provisions designed to reduce the use of lead in home plumbing and consumer products.

The bill also authorizes $90 million in grants to states to support testing for lead hazards in elementary schools and day-care centers built before 1980.
Roughly 70,000 elementary schools and 150,000 day-care facilities need such inspections, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee estimates. The committee puts the average cost of an inspection at $1,000 per school building, $400 per day-care facility, and $200 per day-care home.

Facilities with the worst suspected problems and the youngest children would be tested first under the bill. Studies suggest that children ages 1 to 6 are most likely to be affected by exposure to lead, which can damage internal organs and impair mental development.

School officials and health experts frequently have argued for federal funding for lead testing in schools. (See Education Week, April 6, 1994.)

Several environmental groups lobbied for the legislation, but some experts say its failure to authorize funding to fix the hazards found by tests limits its effectiveness.

Another Bill Proposes Tax

The Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning has focused more of its efforts on legislation introduced by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., and Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., that would tax lead products to pay for lead abatement.

"People can usually find the money for anything if it's a serious enough problem,'' said Anne Guthrie, the deputy director of the alliance.

Education lobbyists predicted that the Reid bill's requirement that parents be notified of lead-test results--combined with the lack of funds for abatement--would touch off a furor in many school districts.

The National School Boards Association has proposed that federal, state, and local governments share the cost of abatement. "This should not fall to the schools alone,'' said Laurie Westley, the N.S.B.A.'s chief legislative counsel.

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