GREENSBORO — In the latest round of lead testing in Guilford County Schools, one tap at Stokesdale Elementary School came in more than 20 times the level the district has set for when it will take action.
Eight out of more than 300 faucets or fixtures tested in 12 district schools came in above the district’s “action” level, according to a report the district released Friday afternoon. The lead levels in the Stokesdale fountain were higher than anything else the district has seen in its testing so far, according to a report by ECS Southeast.
School maintenance staff have since replaced or taken out of service the likely sources of the high test results, the district said.
The school system is working through testing most of its faucets after first finding elevated levels of lead in a few faucets at sites across the district during its first tests over a year ago. Those tests targeted one tap per school. Since then the district has been working to test all taps likely to be used for drinking.
The high numbers the district has seen with some faucets likely indicate lead leaching from faucets or fountains or other components of the fixtures, and are not an indication of lead in pipes inside or outside of the schools.
In this round of testing, all the high results came from drinking stations within the schools, except at Brooks Global Studies, where a valve for the ice maker in the kitchen appears to have been to blame, according to the report. The district replaced the valve and got rid of the old ice.
Since last August, the district has required that, until the faucets at a school were tested, school staff have to run all the drinking water faucets and fountains in almost every school for about a minute at the beginning of every school day.
That’s a precautionary measure recommended by the district’s consultants. What children drink in the morning won’t have been sitting in the faucets overnight, so that lessens the likelihood the first sip will contain extra lead that’s leached out.
Under their testing practice, school leaders let the water sit six to eight hours before taking a sample. The water likely sat in the faucet longer than what the children are drinking during the day at school since the new practice started.
The daily flushing, as well as anti-corrosive measures used by water suppliers, likely reduced those lead levels to undetectable before students started classes each day last school year, the district said, citing its expert consultant.
“We are confident that our daily flushing protocols promote safe drinking water,” Chief Operations Officer Scott McCully said Friday.
Children today generally take in less lead than most of their counterparts did growing up in the mid-20th century, thanks to a series of landmark laws and regulations. However, studies in the last 10 years have suggested that even what once were considered low blood-lead levels are associated with some harm to intelligence, attention and behavior for young children. So schools, researchers and others are taking an increasing interest in decreasing how much lead children are drinking.
Leading experts have said school districts should be working to ensure their youngest students, particularly those 6 and under, aren’t drinking elevated levels of lead on a daily basis at school.
Guilford County Schools leaders have set an action level for lead of 10 parts per billion. They set that threshold after reviewing federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and hiring an outside expert.
According to McCully, the faucet that tested at 242 ppb was part of an old porcelain drinking fountain in a hallway at Stokesdale. The other faucet on the same fountain tested at about 29.2 ppb. The district has in the past discovered it had some old fountains with lead-lined tanks, but this fountain does not have a tank, McCully said, so the likely issue was the faucets.
Since there is a newer fountain nearby, the district just decommissioned the older one, he said.
This marked the second round of the district testing on a tap-by-tap basis. The district is prioritizing elementary schools, as well as places where they initially had a high test result, and older buildings.
The testing found no faucets with lead over the district threshold at Alamance, Gillespie Park, Jones, Lindley, Oak Hill or Wiley elementary schools.
One faucet each at Bessemer, Joyner, Sedalia and Sedgefield, three faucets at Stokesdale, and the one ice machine at Brooks Global tested above the threshold. All the faucets were taken out of service, and the valve for the ice machine was replaced.
The next round of testing has already started at the following elementary schools: Alderman, Jamestown, Pilot, Southwest, Shadybrook, Fairview, Johnson Street Global Studies, Northwood, Triangle Lake Montessori and Bluford STEM Academy.
McCully said the district is committed to continuing its tap-by-tap tests and it is looking at getting an additional testing partner to help speed up the process.
They plan to continue testing taps and replacing or fixing where needed until they’ve done all but the newest schools and those not on district property, such as early colleges. They are also working on taking inventory and removing any faucets that are 30 or more years old. The district separately tests water from wells located on school grounds as required by state regulations.