EAST WENATCHEE — Twenty new certified lead-free water fixtures installed this spring in four Eastmont schools are living up to their promises, according to the latest test results.
The school district last year signed up for a voluntary state Department of Health program to test for lead in schools. Eastmont’s water samples, collected in October, identified higher-than-acceptable levels in some fixtures at Cascade, Lee, Kenroy and Sterling schools.
“All of which we immediately replaced with new, lead-free fixtures,” said Seann Tanner, the district’s facilities and maintenance director.
Those fixtures were re-tested May 3. Tanner received the results Thursday.
“All samples in the retest are well below Action Levels of 15 parts per billion (ppb),” he said, with 13 at or below 1 ppb, five fixtures at 2 ppb and two fixtures at 3 ppb. The results include four “control blanks,” one at each of the schools, he said. The district replaced fixtures that tested above 12 ppb.
“This closes out the lead testing with no additional testing for three years, unless the standards change and/or new Action Levels are mandated,” he said.
The exception is for childcare and daycare facilities which are required to test annually for re-licensing.
The testing program was introduced after unsafe lead levels were found in several drinking water in Tacoma schools. Gov. Jay Inslee issued a directive in May 2016 to the health department to help schools statewide test the water for lead, with a focus on elementary and preschools. Exposure to the heavy metal, commonly found in old paint and plumbing, can lead to learning disabilities and behavioral problems. It is most easily absorbed by young children.
The health department started contacting school districts in January 2018 to schedule sampling dates. The samples were sent to the DOH Public Health Lab for analysis, with DOH covering the cost of collecting and analyzing the samples.
Of the 8,600 water fixtures tested statewide in 199 schools and preschools, 5 percent failed the federal threshold of 15 parts per billion and 61 percent were at or above one part per billion. The fixtures tested included drinking fountains, bottle fillers, classroom sinks and kitchen faucets.
The highest level, 282 ppb, was found in one reading at a school in the Chehalis School District. A school in Auburn had 282 ppb and one in Spokane County had 220 ppb.
The numbers at Eastmont were tamer.
Eastmont was able to get all of its schools tested rather than just the elementary schools, Tanner said. About 50 samples were taken at each school.
The highest readings included a 44 at Cascade, a handful in the 20s at Kenroy and Lee. For the full report on the test results for individual school districts, go to the state Department of Health’s “Testing for Lead in Drinking Water in Schools” page at https://wwrld.us/leadtest.
Tanner said most of the problematic fixtures were in the older schools, but one of those replaced at Sterling was new, installed during the 2012 remodel.
“The only explanation I can come up with is somehow it got packaged with all of the other lead-free fixtures from the supplier,” he said. “I think that was about the time that suppliers were transitioning to lead-free. We replaced it and it tested good.”
The results from the fixture at Cascade also was an eye-opener, he said.
“It believe it was an old fixture and probably contained a higher concentration of lead and had sat unused for a very long time allowing the lead to leach from the brass,” he said.
The Department of Health recommends that schools replace fixtures found with more than 10 ppb and implement a program to flush water to help reduce lead levels on fixtures that tested between 2 and 9 ppb. The lead levels can build up when water sits for periods of time.
Eastmont also is taking the precautions of flushing water through the system.
* This story has been updated to correct the number of fixtures replaced.