Leyva: Ensure Lead-Free Drinking Water in California

SB 1398 Passes Senate Environmental Quality Committee on 6-1 Vote

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that would improve the safety of drinking water and protect Californians from toxic lead exposure passed from the Senate Environmental Quality Committee today with bipartisan support.

SB 1398 would specifically require all California public water systems to compile inventories of lead pipes in use and then to provide the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) a timeline for their replacement. It would additionally require the SWRCB to establish best practices for ensuring chemicals introduced into public water systems do not create corrosion or contamination within the system.

Lead is a neurotoxin that is extremely harmful to the human body.  Even very low levels of exposure in children can cause brain and nervous system damage, slow growth and development, speech and hearing impairment and cause behavioral and learning problems.  In adults, lead exposure can cause kidney damage, fertility problems, nerve disorders and other health ailments.  In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that there is no safe blood lead level.

“SB 1398 will help inform Californians about where lead pipes still remain and develop a proactive plan to completely remove them as soon as possible,” Senator Leyva said. “We have all heard the horror stories about lead being found in water systems across the country and, even though California has always been a leader in this area, we can and must do more to protect our residents from the dangerous impacts of lead and related toxins.  The goal of SB 1398 is to reduce public health risks and ensure that California’s drinking water remains free of lead or other contaminants.  Even though lead pipes may be less common in California, it is critical that we know where these pipes are and eliminate them.  It is unacceptable that almost 100 public water systems in the state have noted high lead levels since 2012, so I am eager to ensure that SB 1398 becomes law so we can minimize and ultimately eliminate lead exposure in our local communities.” 

Many communities throughout the nation—most notably Flint, Michigan—are suffering from severe lead contamination in drinking water systems which have caused a public health crisis.  Like much of the nation’s public water systems, California is suffering the negative impacts of an aging water infrastructure.  Given the age of many of the underground pipes utilized within public water systems, it is not commonly known where lead pipes disproportionately threaten the public health of local communities. In fact, current federal or state law does not require water districts to report locations of lead service pipes. 

In recent decades, California has been a leader in reducing lead exposure in drinking water.  In 1986, the use of lead pipes and solder were banned.  By 2010, all plumbing parts and water fixtures sold in California were required to be ‘lead-free.’ 

The Senate Appropriations Committee will next consider SB 1398 in the coming weeks.