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DPHHS and OPI spar over OPI’s involvement in creating possible lead testing rule for schools

Posted at 6:34 PM, Jul 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 12:47:44-04

HELENA – Montana Health officials are considering a rule to require all public schools to test their drinking water for lead.

This rule would also require schools to remediate the worst cases of lead contamination.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) held a public hearing Thursday morning to discuss the possible rule changes.

The Office of Public Instruction (OPI) indicated that these new water testing rules regarding the lead testing were put in without proper communication between OPI and DPHHS, and have requested an extension to allow schools, education stakeholders and communities to fully understand the substance of these rules and provide proper comment.

DPHHS provided evidence to indicate the dangers of lead in water in public schools and its long-term effects, especially in growing children. Ingesting lead can cause cognitive delays, learning disabilities and ADHD in students.

During the hearing, OPI expressed concerns about lack of transparency between them and DPHHS with the new proposed rule adoptions.

Elise Arntzen, Superintendent of Public Instruction, stated, “Department of Environmental Quality as well as DPHHS and the agency of OPI, Education Advocates Association, all need to sit down and discuss the impacts and figure out how we can manage getting from Point A to Point B, in making sure our students are safe. But being excluded from a conversation is what has happened. That lack of transparency, that lack of conversation, is poor leadership and very poor government. That’s not what I was elected to do and that’s not what our schools and communities expect.”

Arntzen continued, “That we are at the table now and we want to offer solutions. We are not here to obstruct; the agency wants to make sure that teachers have a wonderful place to teach, that students have a very safe environment when they come and learn and parents expect that. So, the OPI is at the table at this time and I want to have a great conversation going forward and we will.”

The DPHHS and DEQ had set by October 1, 2019, all public schools will be required to test their water and make accommodations accordingly.

DPPHS shared a statement from the public hearing: “Calculating the estimated cost of remediation is not feasible because the costs are dependent upon variables that are currently unknown, such as the extent to which lead testing will reveal the need for remediation and site-specific factors relating to remediation of individual school facilities. DEQ and DPHHS will work together to provide guidance on various effective remediation actions and continue to explore additional funding opportunities to help schools with remediation costs.”