Cities begin testing water at schools for lead
New law requires water fountains be tested for lead at every California school built before 2010
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
TULARE COUNTY — A little less than a year ago, Rueters discovered that children in some California communities, including one in Fresno, were exposed to higher levels of lead than children in Flint, Mich., which made lead testing of local water systems a national concern.
In February 2017, the safety of drinking water was questioned after elevated levels of lead were discovered at three campuses in the San Ysidro School District in San Diego County. In addition, Folsom Cordova Unified in Sacramento County started testing water last year at schools built before 1960 that have galvanized steel pipes. The testing was prompted by elevated levels of lead in water coming from a classroom tap in 2015.
In response the legislation passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 746 into law late last year requiring community water systems to test for lead at every school built prior to 2010. The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, is still new to many local school districts and municipal water systems. Farmersville Public Works Director Jeff Dowlin said he was aware of the new law but has yet to coordinate any testing with the Farmersville Unified School District, which includes three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school all built before 2010.
Water systems have until July 1, 2019 to complete the testing, yet some water systems opted to test the school sites they supply water to prior to the law taking effect. Darren Dunn, director maintenance, operations and transportation for Woodlake Unified School District, said the City of Woodlake contacted him shortly after the bill was signed by the governor in October. Dunn was happy to report that every school site in Woodlake, all of which were built prior to 2010, did not exceed the minimum contaminant level for lead, set by the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“They all came up clean,” Dunn said.
Dunn said corrosion of lead pipes or the leaded solder used to hold pipes together increases lead levels in drinking water. Lead is often found in drinking water at older schools built before lead plumbing and fixtures were banned in California in 1985 and nationwide the following year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10% to 20% of total lead exposure for young children comes from drinking water. California generally has newer water infrastructure than other parts of the nation and lead problems are rare, but recent events in schools led to the new requirement. Overall lead is not a huge problem in municipal systems in Tulare County. According to its 2016 annual water quality report, the most recent year available, the City of Exeter’s water barely registers a fraction of a percent of the maximum contaminant level. In fact, Exeter, Farmersville and Woodlake had any testing sites which exceeded the standard for lead. The City of Lindsay, which gets the majority of its water from the Friant-Kern Canal, also did not have any sites exceed the standard for lead.
Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most sensitive is the central nervous system (brain), particularly in children. Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system. Lead in children’s blood has been associated with reduced IQ and attention span, learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss. Infants and children who drink water containing lead in excess of the lead action level may experience delays in their physical or mental development. Children may show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years may develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.
“Students need fresh water, nutritious meals, and regular physical activity to be ready to learn and succeed in class,” Torlakson said. “Cooperation with local water systems is critical to ensure proper testing.”
The State Water Resources Control Board has notified water systems will conduct sampling at drinking fountains and faucets used for consumption and preparing food. A water system must report the testing results within two business days if any samples show lead levels above 15 parts per billion (ppb). Water systems have 10 business days to report results if samples show lead levels less than, or equal to, 15 ppb. If a school’s lead level exceeds 15 ppb, then the water system is required to sample water entering the school to help determine the possible source of lead. The school must also take several actions, including shutting down all fountains and faucets with high lead levels, providing potable drinking water until the situation is resolved, and notifying parents and guardians of students. Additional testing may be required to determine if all or just some of the school’s fountains and faucets are required to be shut down. Private schools are not required to be sampled under AB 746, but may request free sampling under the voluntary Lead Sampling in Schools Program, which remains in effect until Nov. 1, 2019. Public schools that requested and received sampling from their water systems under the voluntary program have met the requirements of AB 746 and do not need to be sampled again.
For more information on the Lead Sampling in Schools Program and information on AB 746, visit the State Water Board’s web page.