Snohomish tests water at 4 schools for presence of lead

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Thursday, April 28, 2016 7:36pm
  • Local News

SNOHOMISH — The Snohomish School District tested water at its four oldest campuses Thursday in light of revelations of lead-tainted water at several Tacoma elementary schools.

Workers intended to collect samples at Cathcart and Emerson elementary schools, the Central Primary Center and the Parkway Campus, according to district spokeswoman Kristin Foley.

Each facility was partially or entirely built in the 1950s when lead pipes were still in use for plumbing, she said. It is not known if lead pipes are part of the plumbing of the four Snohomish schools. Lead pipes are linked with contamination discovered in the water systems at the Tacoma schools.

Foley stressed there have been no problems reported at any of the Snohomish schools. But out of an abundance of caution, district officials ordered testing “in response to Tacoma and all the attention being brought to the quality of drinking water across the nation,” Foley said.

Samples will be sent to Everett Environmental Lab for evaluation. She did not know how long it would take to get results.

Officials in other Snohomish County school districts said they are reviewing when drinking water was last tested on their campuses. That, too, is in response to what’s occurred in Tacoma.

None of the other districts contacted this week said they plan to do water testing. They said they’re confident they do not have problems similar to Tacoma because school structures are newer or have been modernized and do not employ any lead materials in the plumbing.

In the Edmonds School District, water in every district building is tested once a year for levels of cadmium, zinc, lead, copper and iron, said Amanda Ralston, web content and community relations specialist.

George Marshall, the district maintenance manager, implemented the program 10 years ago. Tests are usually done in the summer and the last one occurred Aug. 3, 2015, she said.

“We test water in every district building every year because we want students learning in the safest environments possible,” she said. “In those 10 years we have had no water concerns identified.”

School districts in Snohomish County get their water from a host of providers, the majority of whom purchase their supplies from the city of Everett.

Contamination usually is not an issue with the supply but rather plumbing fixtures installed in much older homes, businesses or schools, said Jeff Clarke, general manager of the Alderwood Water District. The district’s service area covers 45 square miles of southwest Snohomish County and includes schools in several districts.

“We’re going to contact schools to see if there are questions to answer or help to provide,” he said. “We’re trying to be proactive based on what we’re hearing in Tacoma. We’re not expecting to see any of the same problems.”

The Everett School District, home to some of the county’s oldest campuses, is one of those checking results of past testing but not immediately planning new tests. Most district buildings have been renovated or modernized and that’s eased concern about possible contamination, spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said.

The Mukilteo School District last tested for lead in 2005. Using protocols developed by the state Department of Health, it did find “unacceptable” measurements of lead in water at the old Lake Stickney Elementary, which was used for offices and a preschool program, spokesman Andy Muntz said.

Although the district already was providing bottled water for people in the building, signs were posted warning that water from the tap wasn’t safe for consumption, he said.

That building has since been torn down and a new elementary will open on the site this fall, he said.

Also in 2005, a drinking fountain at Fairmount Elementary found to contain unacceptable levels of lead was capped and eventually removed. And a sink in the nurse’s room at Mukilteo Elementary had high lead levels and a sign was posted saying the water was not to be used for human consumption.

In that round of tests, there were no issues with the supply of water provided to the buildings, Muntz said.

“Our water suppliers are still the same as they were when that testing was done, so we haven’t repeated the tests since then,” he said.

The Lake Stevens School District is not doing any testing at this time and has no immediate plans to do so, spokeswoman Jayme Taylor said.

“We did test all of our drinking water in all of our facilities in 2004 because a problem had been identified,” she said.

A sink at Lake Stevens High School tested high for lead content. Once fittings were replaced, the water was retested and in compliance, she said.

“We have not had any reason to believe that since that time there have been any issues with water,” she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency says public water systems must take action if levels of lead exceed 15 parts per billion in their supply.

That action level is slightly higher, 20 ppb, for lead found in water fountains, sinks or other individual fixtures in school buildings, according to state health officials.

The state health department wants public water systems to regularly collect samples from residential customers and treat the water when more than 10 percent of samples exceed the action level. They also must provide information to all consumers when the level of lead water system exceeds the action level for lead.

Water testing in schools is not a requirement of federal or state law although the Washington Department of Health has been trying for several years to put such a mandate in place.

A state law approved in 2009 requires schools to test drinking water for lead and for other environmental hazards such as mold. But lawmakers have never approved funding to implement the law.

“We would like schools to test water for lead,” said Lauren Jenks, director of the Office of Environmental Public Health Sciences. “Lead is a toxic chemical and doesn’t belong in the drinking water. Before we find it in our children’s bodies we want to find it in our water.”

Jenks didn’t know how much it would cost to carry out the law but said they are calibrating an amount ahead of next year’s budget debate.

“Safe drinking water is a foundational public health service we need to have in every community,” she said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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