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Philly wants filtered water
Councilmember Helen Gym is leading the charge to modernize the filtering of water in Philly Schools. Photo: Getty Images

New bill demands Philly schools have modern water filtration by 2025

Introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym, the bill is in response to a recent study that found 61% of water sources tested in the district contained lead.

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On Thursday, March 10, Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a bill to push Philadelphia schools to install modern water filtration systems by 2025.

Currently, the School District of Philadelphia is working on installing at least one filtered hydration station per 100 students, per floor in its 269 school buildings. So far, more than 1,320 have already been installed, and 800 more are in progress. 

Gym’s bill comes a month after environmental advocates at Penn Environment and PennPIRG released a study revealing that 61% of water sources tested in district schools contained lead. 

The report also found that 98% of the water sources in 65 schools tested positive for some level of contamination. Philadelphia’s lead threshold is lower than the federal level of 15 ppb (parts per billion). 

The study considers any amount of 1ppb as contamination. According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe level of lead. 

The effects of lead-contaminated water are serious, especially for children who are still developing physically and mentally. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even low levels of lead can result in behavior and learning problems, hyperactivity, and damage to a child’s central and peripheral nervous systems. 

“The only safe amount of lead in our schoolkids’ water is zero — and this legislation will make that a reality. We want every student, every family, and every school community to feel confident in knowing the water they drink is lead free,” Gym said in a statement. 

The bill would require water fountains to be equipped with highly-effective filters, certified to meet standards set by the American National Standards Institute and NSF International, by June 1, 2025.

In 2016, Gym collaborated with Youth United for Change, pushing for the school district to adopt stricter standards for water access and safety.

Those efforts led to legislation requiring every school to have a minimum number of water fountains based on enrollment and that the District regularly test for lead in the drinking water using a stricter standard than before. 

“We won an increase to safe water sources for students but we know that nobody should go to schools with lead in their water. Councilmember Gym’s bill pushes this fight forward by ensuring all student’s water sources be safe, clean and lead-free,” said Toni Mack, Executive Director of Youth United for Change. 

District spokesperson Christina Clark told Axios that it will be a challenge to obtain the rest of the filters and hydration stations due to a lack of money and limited availability of licensed plumbers. 

According to Clark, the additional 800 hydration stations will cost more than $1 million. 

"We all share the same mission to ensure abundant safe drinking water is available in our schools," Clark said.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, supports the legislation, and believes that through collaboration, this seemingly lofty goal can become a reality. 

“This legislation is emblematic of a simple truth: where there is a will, there is a way. When we truly work to address the legacy crisis of toxic schools, we can make significant headway in addressing a crisis that would never be tolerated in a wealthier, whiter school district,” Jordan said. 

The legislation is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Kendra Brooks,  Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Derek Green, Kenyatta Johnson, Cherelle Parker and Mark Squilla. 

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