The Salem-Keizer School District has almost finished fixing fountains and faucets that produced water with high lead levels during testing last summer.
Only a few water outlets will remain under renovation when school starts Sept. 5, and they’ll be blocked from use, said Joel Smallwood, the district’s construction and maintenance manager.
“We’re in that final crunch down to school starting,” he said.
In June 2016, Oregon health and education officials asked school districts throughout the state to test fixtures for lead, following the discovery of high levels in water in Flint, Michigan, and in some Oregon schools.
Video: The district had taken multiple samples from 3,765 fixtures in 85 buildings. Tracy Loew / Statesman Journal
Salem-Keizer already had announced it would test its schools. By the time it was done, the district had taken multiple samples from 3,765 fixtures in 85 buildings.
A hundred and fifteen fixtures, or about 3 percent, tested above the district’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb).
Some were off the charts: Water from a classroom sink at McNary High School contained lead at 800 ppb – more than 50 times the district’s action level. And a tap at Pringle Elementary School tested at 14,000 ppb – nearly three times the level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers to be toxic waste.
Since then, the district has replaced all 115 fixtures. But in 16 cases, that didn’t fix the problem.
In those cases, plumbers now are replacing pipes behind the walls, from the fixtures to the main lines. Then, they’ll be retested, Smallwood said.
So far, the district has spent $247,775 on testing and repairs. A one-time state grant covered $109,560 of that.
There is no safe level of lead, and experts say health effects can occur at levels as low as 5 parts per billion in drinking water.
Exposure to lead can cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. Children are especially susceptible because their bodies absorb metals at higher rates than adults.
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