Schools encouraged to use elementary & secondary school emergency relief funding for lead remediation
HELENA—Schools across Montana are testing their drinking water for lead. More than 380 schools have already received their results and are in the process of remediating plumbing fixtures that showed elevated levels of lead.
Testing for lead in school drinking water is a requirement for Montana schools that provide a basic instructional program that is approved by the Board of Education, as indicated in the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ (DPHHS) rules. If test results show lead concentrations at 5.0 ug/L or higher, the fixture must be remediated. The cost of lead remediation in schools can vary greatly from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands.
“The focus is on a safe environment for our Montana students to learn,” said Superintendent Elsie Arntzen. “These dollars can be used in flexible ways that best serve our Montana schools.”
One of the available funding sources for remediation is the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. The ESSER fund was established in 2020 as part of the coronavirus response. Montana schools have already received more than $593 million dollars. To date, only $121 million has been expended. Lead mitigation is considered a reasonable expense that can be covered by ESSER funds. To apply for the funds, the local school districts and school boards must detail how the funding will be used through a plan submitted to the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI). If a plan has already been submitted, the plan can be revised to address lead mitigation.
There are a number of other funding options available to schools to assist with the remediation costs. A table of the available funding options can be found on the Lead in School webpage at: https://deq.mt.gov/water/Programs/dw-lead#accordion1-collapse5
Once remediation has taken place, follow-up testing is required to determine the effectiveness of the remediation efforts.
Schools were to conduct initial water sampling by Dec. 31, 2021. The deadline was set prior to the pandemic and has played a role in delaying schools’ efforts to test for lead. As a result, DPHHS is flexible with the due date.
“We appreciate the effort schools have put forth in complying with the lead testing requirement,” DPHHS State Toxicologist Dawn Nelson said. “Progress is being made, and we’re eager to keep moving this important project forward. We encourage all schools to utilize the resources that are available to support this vital work.”
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has partnered with DPHHS to create the Lead in Schools Drinking Water Program. While DPHHS oversees the rules, DEQ provides technical assistance to schools for sampling and remediation and maintains all school sampling data available for public viewing at: Lead in Schools | Montana DEQ (mt.gov)
“DEQ and DPHHS are working hand-in-hand on the Lead in School Drinking Water Program to provide support to schools and to better understand lead in school drinking water across the state,” said Greg Olsen, DEQ’s interim water quality administrator. “Identifying and remediating lead in school drinking water is important to protect children’s health.”
The cost of all initial samples is covered entirely by funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Testing in School and Child Care Program Drinking Water Grant, authorized under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2017 and administered through the DEQ.
For more information visit: https://deq.mt.gov/water/programs/dw-lead
At the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, our mission is to champion a healthy environment for a thriving Montana. DEQ is charged with maintaining and improving Montana’s air, land, and water. For more information about DEQ programs, please visit: deq.mt.gov
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services seeks to promote and protect the health, well-being, and self-sufficiency of all Montanans. DPHHS works to protect adults from abuse and financial exploitation, serve people with developmental disabilities, fund the treatment of adults and children with mental health and/or substance abuse issues, determine eligibility for various assistance programs, oversee child support payments, protect children from abuse and neglect, and implement various public health programs.
The Office of Public Instruction (OPI) serves 402 public school districts and over 149,000 students. OPI offers our Montana schools many resources for classroom learning, school safety, and teacher retention and recruitment. Superintendent Arntzen’s main focus is putting Montana students first. Please visit our website at https://opi.mt.gov/