Bill targets drinking water in public schools

A water filtration system. Photo courtesy WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News

Christopher Cotton, a junior at Florida High, is a big fan of the water filters his school employs.

“I love having water  filters at my school,” he said. “Watching multiple people putting their mouths on the water fountain dispenser and touching the fountain makes you not want to consume any water.I didn’t even notice little things like this until COVID -19 occurred.

“I try to come in contact with as few germs as possible throughout the day. So, these water filters help me feel safer. Also, some water contains harmful chemicals so having the water filters just makes me feel safe because the filter is taking out the chemicals and making the water clean and chemical-free,”  Cotton added.

There is nothing unusual about students visiting the water fountain when school starts, or during lunch and recess. Schools are responsible for providing safe drinking water. There is, however, a concern among Florida legislators that what is in the water may harm students.

Florida Senate Bill 676, filed by Senator Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), would require school districts to test the water at each school and to provide water filters when necessary.

The bill aims to revenant lead in drinking water in public schools to ensure that students aren’t not harmed by water flowing through old, rusty pipes.

Even though school drinking water is inspected and analyzed, lead is often detected in certain water sources. Students, faculty, and staff members may drink lead-contaminated water since plumbing materials may contain harmful chemicals.

“That’s the problem – any level causes harm and higher exposure causes more harm,” said Don Axelrad, a Florida A&M professor of environmental health who has advocated lead testing and filtering in Leon County Schools, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Senator Cruz (D-Tampa) has been working to ensure public schools have access to clean drinking water for students. In 2019 Senator Cruz took on a similar bill.  “All kids should have access to clean and safe drinking water at school,” Cruz said in an email. “Schools around the country are facing this problem. We need to fix this in Florida and that is why I am proud to sponsor Senate Bill 66.”

A 2020 bill filed by Cruz would have required state coordination with local school districts to determine where filters were needed and require certain schools to install them, according to Florida Politics.

Drinking water can contribute to good health.

“More than 95% of children and adolescents are enrolled in schools, and students typically spend at least six hours at school each day. Ensuring that students have access to safe, free drinking water throughout the school environment,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.