Highland News Leader

Highland schools replace drinking fountains following test for lead

A new water fountain at Highland Elementary School. Four water fountains were replaced at the elementary school due to a recent round of lead testing. Another fountain was removed from Highland Primary School.
A new water fountain at Highland Elementary School. Four water fountains were replaced at the elementary school due to a recent round of lead testing. Another fountain was removed from Highland Primary School. mbraa@bnd.com

Five drinking fountains in Highland schools have either been replaced or removed after a recent round of lead contamination testing, according to a report published on the Highland School District website of Feb. 1.

“I want to emphasize that we have addressed every concern where potable water could potentially reach our staff and/or students,” said Superintendent Mike Sutton.

Four of the five problem fountains were at Highland Elementary School. The other was at Highland Primary School, across from the main office.

“The thresholds are very small in the testing requirements, so more sources were identified than I suspected. Nevertheless, they have been addressed either by replacing the fountains or eliminating the source altogether,” Sutton said.

Schools are required to report to parents and take immediate course of action if they discover a threshold of 5 parts per billion (ppb) of lead at any potable source. Any sources that test below 5 ppb are required to have posted signage asking users to flush the water for 30 seconds before drinking.

The district conducted tests in November, as a result a new law that requires Illinois schools and day cares, pre-K through fifth grade, to sample for lead contamination in drinking water.

In addition, the district also sampled non-potable water outlets that are not used by students to get an overall picture of the entire water distribution system, according to the district’s report.

Lead has no taste, smell, and cannot be seen in water, according to the Center for Disease Control. Therefore, water must be tested to confirm contamination.

High levels of lead in tap water can cause health effects if the water enters the bloodstream and causes an elevated blood lead level, according to the CDC. However, the CDC says data shows exposure to lead-contaminated water is likely not to elevate blood lead levels in most adults, even at the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 ppb. However, risk depends on the individual, children and pregnant women should drink from bottled water in areas equal to 15 ppb action level, according to the CDC.

Jeff Williams, director of buildings and grounds for the Highland School District, said two tests were taken. The first test was straight from drinking fountains after the water remained dormant for 8 to 18 hours. The second test was drawn after the water was flushed for 30 seconds.

On the first test, the four elementary school fountains registered anywhere from 3.5 to 7.1 ppb, and on the second draw, two fountains measured at 5.1 and 9.1 ppb. The primary school source came in at 7.4 ppb on the first draw and 2.2 on the second. However, each of these fountains was registered above 5 ppb during at least one test.

Williams said the testing helps determine if lead is coming from pipes within the system or from the water source.

“It really does not look like it is in the pipes,” Williams said.

The report indicates each of the fountains were removed or replaced Dec. 29, with one exception, which will remain out of service until it can be replaced. Williams said that fountains will be re-tested to confirm the source has been removed.

Williams said that the district had other drinking or cooking sources which were below the required reporting levels but above zero. To counteract this, he said the district is following strategies outlined in the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines, including flushing lines and training staff.

Moving forward, the district will lay out all drinking sources and trace out the system until it reaches a zero detection level in all cooking and drinking sources, Williams said.

“There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. So, we will continue to flush and test, search and hunt until every source has been identified and eliminated. Even then, we will continue to flush and test to ensure our kids are safe,” Williams said.

Megan Braa: 618-654-2366, ext 23, @MeganBraa_