District testing water for lead

September 8, 2018

In 2017, Hillsborough County Public Schools began testing water fixtures in schools for traces of lead in the water. The public was made aware of the testing and results less than a month ago, almost 16 months after the testing began. 

The district will be testing over 250 facilities throughout the county. Whenever possible, older schools and facilities will be tested first as older pipes are more likely to contain lead.  Hillsborough, which was built in 1928, is in the process of being tested. 

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Testing results

So far they’ve tested and posted the results of 60 schools and facilities. One or more fixtures containing lead over 15 ppb (parts per billion)  was found at 26 of those facilities. 24 of these fixtures have been replaced; the others are in the process of being replaced. 

Although the recommended level is 15 parts per billion, scientists agree that exposure to lead is never safe. The Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level goal, or the ideal amount of a contaminant, for lead is zero.

According to the Center for Disease Control, even low levels of lead in the blood for children has been linked to learning disabilities, anemia, stunted growth, impaired formation of blood cells, and hearing problems. Along with these effects, lead can stay in the body for years without a trace, making it difficult to test for. 

Recommended levels

Results showing fixtures that contained levels of lead below 15 ppb still haven’t been released-even though scientists say lower levels of lead can still be dangerous.

According to the Tampa Bay Times investigation, 14 schools had fixtures with levels over five ppb that were reported to have “no issues” and will not be replaced by the district. 

The EPA has stated that their limit of 15 ppb was never meant to represent a safe level of lead based on scientific research- it considers cost and capacity for combatting high lead levels. 

The EPA also recommended that testing results be released to the public as they were collected. However, the district chose to release this information nearly 16 months after it commenced testing. 

News to you

For many, the news that lead may be present in their drinking water was surprising- and in some cases, frustrating.

“We’re just drinking the water not knowing anything, thinking it’s going to be OK,” sophomore Alynne Cawley said. Others wished they had known earlier in order to take the necessary precautions.

“We could have brought our own water to school rather than drinking from the fountains and putting ourselves at risk,” sophomore Breanna Bethea said.  

Federal laws do not require schools to test for lead in their water, although the EPA strongly recommends it. The district made the decision to test for lead following news reports from other parts of the country indicating high levels of lead found in school drinking water, particularly older schools. Lead generally gets into drinking water through pipes and faucets made of lead. 

Testing begins

The district has been sending technicians to collect water samples from every fountain, water fixture, and sink in each school before students and staff arrive in the morning. These samples are sent to a lab for testing and fixtures over the recommended amount are then replaced. 

The district is hoping to complete testing by December 2018, although the original completion date was set for 2022. Results for each school will be posted on the district website as they are tested. 

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