New fountains at Salem-Keizer schools still testing high for lead

SALEM, Ore. -- Salem-Keizer Public Schools has begun replacing faucets and fountains that produced water with high lead levels during testing last summer.

But that hasn’t solved the problem in more than one-third of the cases so far, and district officials aren’t quite sure why.

“It’s a head scratcher,” district spokesman Jay Remy said. “In most of these situations, the faucets are coming back high, even though they’re new.”

“It’s a head scratcher. In most of these situations, the faucets are coming back high, even though they’re new.” -- Jay Remy, district spokesman 

In June, Oregon health and education officials asked school districts throughout the state to test fixtures for lead, following the discovery of high levels in water Flint, Michigan, and in some Oregon schools.

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.

One hundred and fifteen fixtures, or 3 percent, tested above the district’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion, a threshold that’s lower than the 20 ppb used by many other school districts.

Fifty-three fixtures have been replaced, and new samples were taken, Remy said. So far, 43 of the new samples have been analyzed, and 15 still are above the action level.

Those fixtures will remain bagged and tagged so no one can use them, Remy said. More tests will be performed to determine if the problem lies deeper in the plumbing lines.

Although not included in the state guidance, Salem-Keizer also tested outlets for copper.

Twenty fixtures tested high for copper, including six that also were high for lead.

The district sampled every water outlet that could be used for drinking or cooking, with the exception of seven staff room refrigerator icemakers that were not hooked up.

District officials decided to render those inoperable, so they would not be connected in the future, Remy said.

The district also is studying whether to test hose bibs on the outside of buildings that are not used for drinking or cooking, but that could possibly be used by sports teams to fill water jugs or for school gardens.

Remy said the total cost for testing and repairs still is unknown. District officials previously estimated that the bill for testing alone would be $300,000 to $350,000.

Lead and copper can leach from pipes, fittings and fixtures even when the water meets EPA standards at the treatment plant.

Oregon outlawed lead solder in plumbing in 1985, so older buildings should be more at risk.

There is no safe level of lead, and experts say health effects can occur at levels as low as 5 ppb. Lead is especially dangerous to children.

The EPA recommends taking action, such shutting off taps or replacing fixtures, at 20 ppb of lead. Some Oregon school districts, including Salem-Keizer, are using a stricter standard of 15 ppb.

The action level for copper is 1.3 parts per million.

Salem-Keizer will continue to regularly test water outlets for lead and copper, Remy said, although that schedule has not yet been determined.

Click here to check Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ water sampling results.

tloew@statesmanjournal.com, 503-399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/Tracy_Loew


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