KRON4 News Investigates: Lead in school drinking water

Lead pipes

(KRON) KRON4 News is investigating is your water safe to drink.

KRON4’s Charles Clifford has talked to experts across the Bay Area to find out about the dangers of lead in our water.

One of the main concerns for any parent is the water safe to drink while your child is at school.

In California, it falls to the local water districts and schools districts to test for lead and other contaminants in the water that kids drink at school.  California’s water supply contains little to no naturally occurring lead so on the rare occasion that a problem is found the source is almost always traced to old pipes or plumbing fixtures within the school itself.

That’s exactly what happened at two schools in Healdsburg. In 2015, a staff member at Healdsburg Elementary noticed that their water was a little cloudy.  The school district brought in a water testing agency to figure out what was going on.

The district superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel says “there appeared to by some problems with lead in the water following those tests so we shut the water off and brought in bottled water for the kids.”

The good news for Healdsburg Elementary was the test was a false positive, so the water was actually safe to drink.

Testing was also done at the district’s other schools and lead was again found in water at the junior high school, which was built in the 1927.  Because of the age of the building, replacing the plumbing wasn’t possible so the district installed a filtration system to catch any contaminants.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a comprehensive website with information about lead in drinking water. 

Nationwide, the average age of school buildings dates to the early 1970s. It was not until 1986 that lead pipes were banned, and it was not until 2014 that brass fixtures were ordered to be virtually lead-free.

Last year alone, lead levels exceeded the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion at 64 schools or day care centers that are required to test because they have their own water systems.

Schools required to conduct lead testing represent only about 1 of every 10 schools in the country. Those receiving their water from city-owned systems — an estimated 90,000, according to the EPA — are not required by the federal government to do so.

The inconsistent testing leaves most schoolchildren in buildings that are unchecked and vulnerable because lead particles can build up in plumbing when water goes unused for long periods.




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