HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — It's become clear, what's in the water at some Florida schools could be exposing young minds to a dangerous toxin.
A new bill filed by Democratic Senator Lauren Book who represents parts of Broward County, aims to protect students from the kind of lead-laced water that has already forced some schools districts to amp up testing policies or turn off the flow of water at school water fountains and sinks.
Senate Bill 66 requires Florida schools built pre-1986 track the water sources where students can consume water by installing barcodes on those sources like water fountains and sinks. But the bill's most notable detail includes a first-of-its-kind mandate in Florida that schools built before 1986 also install an approved filter that reduces lead in drinking water. The filter and it's parts would have to meet National Standards spelled out in the bill.
"I think it's needed," said Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, a Tampa pediatrician who is also an Emeritus Pediatrics Professor at the University of South Florida. Ringenberg also co-founded the Florida Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. The non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting people from environmental threats, including children's exposure to lead.
"There is no safe level of lead," said Dr. Ringenberg. "Lead is a potent neurotoxin. It gets into the brain and even at low levels can cause damage," she said.
Earlier this month, we first uncovered how the majority of Florida school districts either do not test for the metal toxin or only partially test. Florida, like most states, do not require schools test for lead.
Last month, Sarasota County Schools started testing for the first time following headlines in neighboring school districts where lead levels tested above the EPA's federal standard for action of 15 ppb (parts per billion). While the district has yet to share its results, it's head of construction planning and facilities, Jody Dumas, told us earlier this month that he would not rule out filters if needed.
"At this point we've learned at least enough to know that's one of the options," he said.
Senator Book's bill does not address who would pay for mandated water filters at schools. Her office has not responded to multiple calls and emails.
Dr. Ringenberg knows money will fuel debate, but believes not passing the bill will result in a price tag a lot tougher to swallow.
"We need to do whatever we can to protect our children's health, they're brain health, and give them every opportunity to be the best they can be in our world," she said.