Elevated levels of copper have been found in drinking fountains at five Olympia Schools: Garfield, L.P. Brown and Roosevelt elementary schools, Jefferson Middle school and Avanti High School, which also houses the Knox Administrative Center.
“A state Department of Health official this morning recommended the district notify families and employees of the five sites with the elevated copper and then take flush samples at those sites,” stated a news release issued Monday evening by the district. “The flush sample method requires running water for 30 seconds after water sits unused for eight to 18 hours before collecting samples.”
Testing in that method will help determine if the elevated copper is coming from a specific fixture or a building’s pipes, officials said. The action level for copper is 1.3 milligrams per liter, and the district’s water samples ranged from 1.4 to 3.9 milligrams per liter, according to the news release. Unlike elevated lead levels, the state does not require fountains to be shut off for elevated copper, officials said.
Olympia is among several districts in the state to voluntarily test their water systems after high levels of lead were found at more than a dozen Tacoma schools. The district paid about $2,400 for the testing, said Alan Tyler, executive director of capital investment and facilities maintenance for the Olympia School District.
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According to information from the Department of Health:
Too much copper can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and intestinal cramps; severe cases of copper poisoning can lead to anemia and liver and kidney problems. People with certain genetic disorders such as Wilson’s disease and Menkes disease are at a higher risk from copper exposure.
Most copper in drinking water comes from corrosion in plumbing; public water supplies are required to treat to reduce corrosion when more than 10 percent of tap water samples hit action levels.
In addition, elevated levels of lead were found in water samples taken last month from a custodian hand washing sink at Capital High School.
Because the sink was no longer needed and rarely used, it has been removed and will not be replaced, Tyler said.
Lead usually enters a school’s drinking water from a building’s plumbing system; it may be present in lead solder, brass fixtures or lead or galvanized pipes and leach into water standing in the system.
Children under 6 are most susceptible to the effects of lead because their brains and nervous systems are still developing; even low levels in a child’s blood can affect IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. However most exposure isn’t from drinking water; the top exposures include dust and chips from interior and exterior lead-based paint removal, contaminated soil and industrial sources.
Last week, the neighboring North Thurston Public Schools, announced that elevated levels of lead were discovered in water fixtures in five of its 21 schools.
The schools are Meadows, Evergreen Forest and Mountain View elementary schools, Aspire Middle School and North Thurston High School.
North Thurston shut off the affected fixtures, began to provide bottled drinking water where needed and plans to do follow-up tests.
Olympia’s other neighboring district, the Tumwater School District, is required to test water at two of its schools — East Olympia and Littlerock elementary schools — every three years because they aren’t on the city of Tumwater’s water system, said superintendent John Bash. The next tests scheduled by the state Department of Health for those schools will be done in September, he said.
The school district also recently partnered with the city of Tumwater to sample and test all of the water in the schools served by the city water supply, Bash said.
“Water samples are being taken this week at each school site and will be sent to the city, which will be sponsoring the testing of these samples by a certified laboratory,” he said. “… We expect to receive the results of this testing approximately two weeks after the samples are submitted.”