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Obama signs federal epinephrine law after death of Chesterfield student

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – President Barack Obama signed federal legislation on Wednesday  to help save the lives of school children who suffer from severe food allergies.

The bipartisan legislation offers a financial incentive to states if schools stockpile epinephrine, a life-saving medication injected through preloaded EpiPens.

Epinephrine is considered a first-line treatment for people with allergies to food, insect bites, latex or medications.

The federal legislation comes on the heels of a Virginia law in 2012 that mandates all Virginia Public Schools to stock epinephrine and to train teachers and staff how to use the medication.

Ammaria Johnson, a 7-year-old Chesterfield County first grader, died in 2012 shortly after eating a peanut that was given to her on the school playground.

Her death, along with the death of a 13-year-old in Illinois, helped spur efforts for both state and federal legislation.

Beth Ehrensberger, the Henrico parent of a five-year-old with severe food allergies, helped lobby Virginia legislators to take action.  She and her husband were contemplating sending their son to private school until Virginia implemented the epinephrine law.

“It’s so unfortunate that it took something like that to make an impact on lawmakers.  Honestly- educators, parents and everybody saw how serious and how quickly something can happen,” Ehrensberger says.

Ehrensberger hopes the federal legislation will help offset the costs incurred by school districts that implement food safety policies.  She also hopes it prompts more state to pass legislation similar to Virginia’s law.

The 2012 General Assembly appropriated $200,000 in the fiscal year 2013 for the purchase of EpiPens by school divisions.   School divisions are not required to report data on local expenditures for EpiPens.