School district drinking water lead-free

The high levels of lead recently discovered in the water of many Seattle public schools has prompted other districts in the region to check their own lead levels.

The South Kitsap School District started its vigilance in June.

“We sampled quite a bit of water this summer,” said Tom O’Brien, director of facilities and operations for the South Kitsap School District. “We decided this summer (especially) it would be a good idea to take a look at all of our schools and support buildings.”

O’Brien said the district decided to test the water voluntarily, with the exception of Olalla Elementary, where a contractor conducts a monthly test.

O’Brien said tests at the elementary school are required because the water that serves the school is obtained from a well and there are higher risks of lead contamination.

There are currently no state or federal laws requiring testing of the water at other schools in the district.

According to O’Brien, there are five different water companies that supply water to district facilities and representatives from the companies volunteered time and effort to collect the samples.

More than 100 samples were taken over the summer from around the district at a cost of $28 each. O’Brien said samples were taken from every school and support building, with a focus on testing in-school drinking fountains.

“It was really a good-news story,” O’Brien said. “We didn’t have a single drinking fountain that didn’t pass the (Environmental Protection Agency’s) requirement.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that lead be at a level less than 20 parts-per-billion.

“We didn’t have a single drinking fountain that was a problem,” O’Brien said.

However, O’Brien reported that five sinks, not used for drinking water, were found to have lead levels of 22 parts-per-billion, just two parts-per-billion over the EPA’s requirements.

“We ended up having five sinks that slightly exceeded the level,” O’Brien said.

According to O’Brien, the district has been in contact with the drinking water division of the state Department of Health and immediately secured the sinks.

After implementing new fixtures, four of the five sinks dropped below the EPA requirement.

“It wasn’t that we had water with a lot of lead in the pipe,” O’Brien said. “Old fixtures leak lead.”

One sink, located in a storage closet at Madrona Heights Elementary, still did not meet the requirement. O’Brien reiterates that water from all five sinks were never used as drinking water.

A warning has been placed on he sink at Madrona and plans are being made to further investigate.

O’Brien also tested every drinking fountain in Madrona Heights Elementary.

“It concerned me enough,” O’Brien said. “It’d been some years since we’d tested.”

According to O’Brien, the district’s water supply is in good shape.

“I think we’ve been as proactive as we possibly could,” O’Brien said. “It’s definitely of the highest priority.”

For more information on lead call the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-LEAD.

From the Childhood Lead Poisoning Fact Sheet for the 1999 Childhood Health Survey:

Q. What is lead?

A. Lead is a natural metal found in the environment.

Q. What are the effects of lead poisoning?

A. Lead is toxic and has no known function in the human body. Young children and fetuses are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead. Long-term exposure to even low levels of lead can cause irreversible learning difficulties, mental retardation and delayed neurological and physical development. Lead poisoning is a particularly insidious public health threat because there may be no unique signs or symptoms. Early symptoms of poisoning may include loss of appetite, fatigue, irritability, anemia and abdominal pain. Because of the general nature of symptoms at this stage, lead poisoning is often not suspected.

Q. How do you prevent lead exposure in children?

A. A child is at greatest risk if he or she lives in an older home built prior to 1950. Homes built before 1950 often contain lead-based paint. Lead may contaminate dust and be ingested when dirty hands or other non-food items come in contact with the mouth. If parents believe a child has been exposed, they should talk to the child’s pediatrician or their health care provider.

Q. How is lead used?

A. Historically, lead was used as a pigment in house paint, an additive to gasoline and as a pesticide. Currently, it is used in lead-acid batteries, fishing weights, marine paint, lead shot, bullets and in the manufacture of some plastics. In 1990, the lead-acid battery industry accounted for about 80 percent of domestic lead production. Ammunition, brass and bronze, extruded products, sheet lead, ballast, containers, ceramics and gasoline additives represented the remaining 20 percent.

Q. Where is blood lead testing done?

A. Parents who want their children tested should contact a pediatrician or health care provider.

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