Water testing lab changes advance

Lawmakers gave first-round approval Feb. 4 to a bill that makes changes to state law relating to the testing of drinking water in Nebraska.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, sponsor of LB19, said that the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) currently has a monopoly on dozens of required tests of public drinking water in Nebraska.

State law currently allows the state director of public health to certify and enter into agreements with private laboratories to test water for human consumption, he said, but DHHS does not do so.

“LB19 would require the director to enter into agreements with private labs and would allow the private labs to compete in the marketplace,” Krist said.

Under the bill, DHHS would develop standards for certification of private laboratories to test samples provided by public water systems for all acute toxins, including regulations regarding:
communication of test results;
quality assurance and quality control procedures; and
staffing, equipment, procedures and methodology for conducting laboratory tests.

Krist said private laboratories in Hastings, Kearney, Lincoln, McCook, Omaha and Scottsbluff have the technology and knowledge to perform the dozens of tests required for municipal drinking water.

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward supported LB19, saying the state’s private labs already engage in many aspects of water testing and are qualified to take on additional responsibilities.

“It’s a good example of when private industry can take up some of the slack,” he said.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene also spoke in support of the bill. The testing process should be opened up to private testing labs, he said, which would benefit the private sector.

“This is a no brainer,” he said. “This is good government.”

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford expressed some concern regarding potential unintended consequences of the legislation. For example, she said, if the bill shifts more profitable testing to private labs—leaving the more costly tests to DHHS—the system that protects the state’s drinking water may not be sustainable.

“I think it’s a real challenging balance to strike, when we’re talking about water safety,” Crawford said. “This is a fundamental public health issue to ensure that the water that we drink is safe.”

Krist said the concerns, while understandable, were addressed by the bill.

“We have established a legislative intent and a direction to the department to uphold those high standards across the state,” he said.

LB19 advanced to select file 32-0.

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