After detecting lead in water at one Boise school last month, district officials ordered a widespread test of all schools that could also be contaminated. About one in six samples tested above federal guidelines for lead found in drinking water across 26 active schools built before 1986 – the year Congress outlawed lead pipes in new construction nationwide.
Some drinking fountains and sinks at these schools tested 120 times higher than levels recommended by the EPA.
Capital High School, Fairmont Junior High School and Whittier Elementary School returned the highest number of samples above federal lead guidelines.
School district officials say they’ve immediately shut off water to faucets and drinking fountains that tested above these guidelines. Staff members at each school are also flushing these taps at affected campuses in the mornings and afternoons to reduce lead levels.
The district has brought in water coolers and water bottles for students, faculty and staff at a cost of $2,500 so far.
“Addressing this issue is job one for us. We understand the magnitude of the situation and we’re committed to seeing it through,” said district spokesman Dan Hollar.
Here's a map of each currently occupied school that was tested. Click on each marker to find how many water sources tested above EPA guidelines for lead in drinking water.
Dr. Mark Uranga, Medical Director for the Newborn Nursery at St. Luke’s, says lead exposure can lead to significant health problems for younger children, such as a lowered IQ, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
But Uranga says most acute lead poisoning cases stem from ingesting lead paint instead of lead-tainted water.
“It’s unlikely that their child needs treatment for any lead exposure that they’ve had. The most important thing is to prevent ongoing exposure,” he said.
The EPA guidelines cap the amount of lead in drinking water at 0.015 mg/L, though the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the American Academy of Pediatrics have found there is no safe level of lead exposure. Uranga recommends parents should talk to their pediatrician if they’re concerned.
He understands that parents and children might still be cautious about school water, but he says water from taps that have met EPA guidelines are safe to drink.
“If a school was known to be safe through this testing, that is the safest source of drinking water for the children.”
The highest sample tested registered a 5.2 mg/L concentration in a Capital High School boiler room. Another sample taken from a drinking fountain at Whittier Elementary came back with a 1.8 mg/L result. Other high lead concentrations were found in restrooms, classroom sinks and gymnasium drinking fountains.
Troubles for the school district began in October, when lead was found at Fairmont Junior High. In response, the district decided to test these older schools, even though such testing isn’t required under Idaho law.
When asked if Boise School District had been proactive enough in trying to prevent lead exposure, Hollar says yes, since the state doesn't madate lead testing in schools.
"I think we’ve done as much as we can to make sure that we continue to do what’s right for the sake of student and staff safety and we’ll continue to commit ourselves to doing that.”
The district hasn’t said how much replacing these fixtures will cost or when the renovations will be complete.
Hollar says completely replacing all lead plumbing at these schools may be too costly. The district is looking for grants to help defray the final bill.
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