North Texas school districts began testing water at schools and other buildings for lead contamination after water samples from Fort Worth schools found elevated lead levels at 28 campuses.
Arlington, the second-largest district in Tarrant County with 63,500 students, is working with the city’s water department to collect and test samples from every water fountain and kitchen faucet in the district, officials said.
If unsafe lead levels are found, fixtures and infrastructure will be replaced, officials said.
Other districts, including Burleson, Castleberry, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Everman, Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Mansfield, Northwest and White Settlement, are testing for lead or will soon begin doing so.
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The Crowley district did testing for lead in the fall, and the Keller district tested its campuses in the spring.
“The safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance,” Arlington school district Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said in a statement. “We are working closely with the city of Arlington to ensure that the water in our facilities is safe.”
The problem in Fort Worth was not with water being piped into the schools, but with water being chilled in tanks inside water fountains. Fort Worth officials said they will remove and replace about 400 water fountains by the time school starts Aug. 22.
Arlington Water Utilities has trained teams of employees from the school district’s plant services department to properly collect water samples, said district spokeswoman Leslie Johnston. Workers began collecting samples Tuesday, and the city will do the testing, much like in Fort Worth.
The district will collect samples at as many schools as possible each day in order to complete sampling before school starts, she said. There are 75 campuses in the Arlington district, and it will likely take several days to receive results, officials said.
Arlington has no known lead service lines, but lead contamination of drinking water can come from plumbing materials such as lead pipe, fittings and fixtures, Johnston said.
“The city of Arlington has a high confidence level in the safety of water coming into our buildings,” she said in an email.
A report released in June by the Natural Resources Defense Council says “lead can decrease a child’s cognitive capacity, cause behavior problems, and limit the ability to concentrate — all of which, in turn, affect the ability to learn in school.”
Fort Worth started testing in June
Arlington schools moved to test water samples after the Fort Worth district’s revelation that unsafe lead levels were found in 28 schools out of 116 tested. The school district began testing as lead contamination emerged as a national safety issue, mostly because of the reports of toxic water in Flint, Mich.
In Fort Worth’s schools, lead was mostly found in a type of water fountain that allows water to sit as it is chilled, which lets lead leach into and contaminate the water.
District officials said they don’t believe any children were in any danger and feel confident the lead issue arose this summer when the fountains sat dormant, but still chilling water. Blood tests can show if a person has elevated lead levels, and parents should take their children to a doctor if they are concerned, officials said.
The Environmental Protection Agency places acceptable lead levels at 15 parts per billion for cities. There are no local, state or federal rules that require schools to test drinking water.
The highest level found in Fort Worth schools was 88.9 parts per billion in a seldom-used breakroom faucet at Stevens Elementary School, the district said.
Other North Texas school districts
Burleson school district officials said they will likely start testing water sources in upcoming days.
“The health and safety of students and faculty members in Burleson ISD is a top priority,” said Superintendent Bret Jimerson. “We are consulting with an environmental specialist to assist us in testing all of our water sources. All drinking water sources will be tested prior to students returning to school.”
The Crowley school district began a water-testing program last fall. Two types of tests were made at the district’s 23 campuses and four administrative buildings. Water lines and drinking fountains were tested and found to be in compliance, according to the district.
Crowley schools are making lead testing part of routine maintenance.
The Keller school district tested for lead at all of its 39 campuses in the spring.
“The testing was conducted in three specific areas on each campus including: the kitchen area, restrooms and water fountains. All test results indicated we had below federal, state, and EPA thresholds,” said Shellie Johnson, Keller’s executive director of communications.
Hurst-Euless-Bedford schools began installing new drinking fountains in 2008 as part of the district’s water fountain replacement plans, according to the district. The new fountains meet a lead-free certification standard.
“At this point, all but 25 drinking fountain have been replaced with ‘lead free compliant’ units,” said Deanne Hullender, spokesperson for H-E-B schools in an email. “Those 25 remaining fountains are located in the administration building and Hurst Junior High.”
H-E-B’s maintenance department will finish replacing drinking fountains between now and Winter Break, Hullender said. Additionally, the district is seeking to test water sources again as a precaution.
Grapevine-Colleyville schools will begin testing water sources from buildings constructed before 1989, said Rick Hadley, spokesman for the district. The focus is on this time period because Congress mandated that buildings constructed after 1986 have lead-free drinking water components, he said. The district plans to have results before school starts. Any water fountains or kitchen equipment that has unsafe lead levels will be replaced. Additionally, any waters sitting in tanks over the summer will be flushed out.
Mansfield schools are testing water sources also “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a statement. Most of Mansfield’s water fountains have been maintained or replaced in recent years, officials said.
At White Settlement schools, water fountains will be retested, said district spokeswoman Desiree Coyle.
“We're confident that our water fountains are safe because we replaced the fountains that FWISD is referring to during our construction projects and renovations, but we have called in a specialist to retest the fountains to ensure that we no longer have any of the old water fountain systems,” Coyle said.
Staff writers Amanda Rogers and Sandra Engelland contributed to this report, which contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.
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