New law requires testing for lead in public school water

Updated: May. 18, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Lead could be present in your child's drinking water and, currently, there's no requirement to test lead levels in public schools.

This is changing soon with a new law which will require schools to plan, test, and fix lead levels.

SB 1359 will require schools to address any water contamination issue in 'potable water from sources identified by the EPA as high priority for testing, giving priority in such testing plan to schools whose school building was constructed, in whole or in part, before 1986.' This includes bubble-style and cooler-style drinking fountains, cafeteria or kitchen taps, classroom combination sinks and drinking fountains.

The concern is lead can leach into water sitting in the pipes leading to drinking fountains or sinks, especially in older school facilities.

Even with fresh water coming in, the parts used to make fountains could change the lead levels. SB 1359 will require schools to test the water at each source where your child would drink from.

"That is where they're finding the corrosion happens, in the fittings and the service lines within the schools that are becoming antiquated and haven't been checked over the years," explained Kathy Harris with Environmental Hazards Services, LLC in Chesterfield.

Recently, her lab went over the results from water samples collected in out-of-state public school facilities.

"You'd see one that was very high. Typically we were seeing the majority of those samples coming from the cafeteria sink areas," said Harris.

She went on to explain water fountains also had high levels - partly because water sits, unused, during summer months and lead can leach into the water.
Once the law goes into effect this summer, schools will have to fund the plan and testing themselves.

Both Chesterfield and Henrico school districts are being proactive, testing water before the law is put into place.

Henrico performed water resting in April of 2016 on 48 schools constructed prior to 1978. "All schools tested below the action levels for lead and copper. At the time, we were monitoring the events in Flint, Michigan, and decided to be proactive and proceed with a testing update, even though Virginia school divisions were not required to do so," explained school spokesperson Andy Jenks.

Jenks added, "after the initial 48, we tested the remaining schools and all have tested below the action levels as well. We continue to feel this has put us ahead of the curve in regard to student safety, which is our highest priority."

Chesterfield is also already in compliance.

"We have tested all schools built in 1987 or prior according to protocols recommended by the EPA," explained Chesterfield school spokesperson Shawn Smith.

Smith added that all potable water samples tested were below 20 parts per billion.

As for Richmond Public Schools, they do not currently test the water unless a specific concern in raised.

According to the Chief Operating Officer, the school has only tested the water at the Summer Hill Pre-K site since 2014.

"The results were less than 5 parts per billion, which is significantly below the level in the bill for remediation which is 20 parts per billion," explained Richmond school spokesperson Kenita Bowers.

Bowers added that funding is a factor.

"The estimated cost of conducting the test is $1,000 to $2,000 per site, depending on the number of potable water locations in the school building that will need to be tested. Based on 48 school sites and an average of $1,500 per site our one time cost would be $72,000. Per the proposed bill, this amount could be higher based on the number of tests that would need to be conducted per the Virginia Department of Health rules," explained Bowers.

At this point, his level of testing is not included in the RPS budget.

Some local schools are being proactive, testing the water before the law kicks in. Another school system has only tested one building, due to budget constraints.

As Harris explained, it is ultimately the responsibility of the school to find funding. There are grants available to help.

While the law kicks in this summer, there is no set time period for schools to come into compliance.

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