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Water in Hammond, East Chicago schools may be subject to annual lead testing

State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, speaks Monday in the Senate about his proposal to require annual lead testing of the water in all Hammond and East Chicago schools. Senate Bill 297 was approved 49-0.

INDIANAPOLIS — The water in every public and private school building in Hammond and East Chicago would have to annually be tested for lead and copper contamination, under legislation approved 49-0 Monday by the Indiana Senate.

Senate Bill 297, sponsored by state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, aims to prevent children from ingesting lead through school water sources, since lead from manufacturing facilities is known to be in the East Chicago soil and the Hammond air.

"With the kids, especially grade school, when the lead gets in their system it affects their growth and development," Randolph said. "In some cases, it makes them overly aggressive to the point where they cause problems, disruptions in school and they don't learn."

"Maybe this is the way, if we can't eliminate the problem completely, to at least minimize the effects of that."

The legislation does not provide any money for Hammond and East Chicago schools to conduct the required water testing.

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An estimate by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency projects that it will cost a total of $55,800 a year for every school corporation and private school to test the water in all 31 buildings that would be subject to the mandate in both cities.

Additional costs likely would be incurred by the schools to remediate lead or copper test levels found to be in excess of federal requirements.

Randolph said it's worth it: "Parents should be able to send their kids to school without worrying that they may possibly contract lead poisoning from drinking water."

The measure now goes to the House.

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Financial Affairs Reporter

Dan has reported on Indiana state government for The Times since 2009. He also covers casinos, campaigns and corruption.