DeKalb schools to test water for lead

DeKalb County School District officials announced plans Monday to test drinking water for lead, making it the second district to voluntarily test levels amid concerns about high lead in water samples nationally.

Testing will begin a week from today and go through summer 2017, Superintendent Steve Green said. The district has started a web page to update the community as results come in. It also provides information on lead dangers, as well as district communications about how testing will be rolled out.

Green said the district decided to test water amid concerns in Flint, Mich. Flint’s water crisis sparked testing efforts by Atlanta Public Schools as well as school districts in Milwaukee, New York and Chicago, among other cities.

No Georgia law requires testing water for lead in schools or day care centers.

“We haven’t had anything arise that would make us think we have a problem,” Green said. “The health and safety of all students and staff are, and always will be, our top priority.”

Atlanta Environmental Management will collect samples for testing, said Joshua Williams, the district’s chief operating officer.

The Environmental Protection Agency limits lead levels to 15 parts per billion, Williams said. School water fountains should not exceed lead concentrations of 1 part per billion, recommends the American Society of Pediatrics, saying even low lead levels could affect behavior and learning.

Williams said elementary schools will be among the first tested, given priority because of those students’ ages. The district’s 106 buildings built before 1986 are at high risk, as lead was legally used during construction. Lead levels depend on several factors, including the water temperature as well as how long it sits in pipes.

Results will be available 10 days after testing, Williams said. Test results will be listed as they come in.

Based on the findings, a remediation plan will be activated. Bottled water will be used, if needed, until outlets deemed unsafe are replaced.

Atlanta Public Schools started testing its water this spring. Districts across the metro Atlanta region said they often rely on local water utilities to test drinking water, which don’t measure lead levels from fountains and sinks inside the schools.

What Atlanta found was not good. Twenty-five of 60 schools showed levels above 15 parts per billion in one or more water fountains or sinks. In total, 39 of the 1,542 school water fountains and sinks tested had levels above 15 parts per billion.

Levels at several schools were as high as 15 times the federal limit for water utilities. High lead levels were also found at some administrative buildings.

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