Recent water testing by the state Department of Health has found lead in the water at five schools in Grays Harbor and Lewis counties.
The Aberdeen School District shut off tap water at four schools after finding slightly high levels of lead. The move affects Central Park, A.J. West and Stevens elementaries, and the Hopkins Building, which houses both its preschool and Harbor High School. These were the four schools the state recommended for testing, based on their age.
In a news release, Superintendent Alicia Henderson said she wanted to take immediate action even though the tests are considered preliminary.
“The safety of our students and staff is our primary concern,” Henderson said. “As a precaution, we are turning the drinking water off at the tap until we receive more complete results. ...”
Students were provided with either bottled water or access to water bottle filling stations. In addition, water was brought in for use in the kitchens, Henderson said.
The district has purchased a lead testing system and found that the newer, water bottle filling stations set up in some of the schools are clean to use. Those have been turned back on.
Henderson said she is currently looking to replace the older sink faucets that may have caused the higher levels of lead, but isn’t sure how long that will take.
Henderson said in performing these tests, samplers took the very first draw of water from the taps after it had been sitting overnight. This technique, according to the state Department of Health, is designed to find the highest levels of lead. After the tap has been used a few times, the lead concentration is believed to drop.
In Grays Harbor, two fixtures at Edison Elementary School were removed after test results of the water indicated “actionable levels” of lead.
The EPA action level is 20 parts per billion (ppb). One fixture contained 23 ppb and the other contained 13 ppb, but both were removed.
“Department of Health staff tested 35 fixtures at Edison Elementary. Essentially all of the fixtures that could provide drinking water or be used to prepare food,” said Superintendent Mark Davalos in a press release. “The results for one fixture showed lead at 23 parts per billion (ppb), which is above the EPA action level of 20 ppb. Another showed lead at 13 ppb, the district is treating both as though they are above the action level.”
The Department of Health tested the fixtures on March 8 and Centralia School District received the results on April 18. Both fixtures were removed immediately.
“We are conducting further tests to rule out any potential errors,” Davalos said in the press release. “Pending those results we will work to identify the source of any lead contamination in the water supply and make the necessary repairs to eliminate the problem. We will not return the affected fixtures to service until we are confident the water is safe for consumption.”
In 2017, the Legislature directed the Department of Health to test drinking water in public schools to reduce lead amounts. The department is planning to test approximately 500 public elementary schools over the 2017-2019 biennium.
However, Davalos said water supplies at schools in the Centralia School District are tested annually. The other fixtures at the elementary school were within the EPA’s limits.
“Parents who are concerned about their child’s lead exposure for any reason should contact their health-care provider about lead screening,” Davalos said in the press release.