Jul 18, 2017

Illinois School District Faces High Lead Levels

Schools to replace or shut down contaminated sources

Illinois schools have lead in water

High lead levels were found in School District U46 in Illinois. More than 250 drinking fountains, sinks and water coolers in School District U46 will be replaced, updated or shut down.

A state law requires school districts to test lead levels in drinking water sources at schools or buildings that house any grades between preschool and fifth grade and were built before Jan. 1, 1987.

District spokeswoman Mary Fergus said approximately 3,000 sources of drinking water in these buildings were sampled for their water quality. Two samples were taken from each source, once when the water was turned on and another after a 30-second flush.

"It's our first time doing these tests, we didn't go in with any preconceived notions" on what lead levels to expect,” she said. Seven municipalities provide U46 drinking water to students and adults.

Of the 349 samples that failed, 237 samples would meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to the water quality reports. Parents and guardians of students at these schools were notified late last week of their school's test results.

According to the publicly available results, the highest parts-per-billion (ppb) count recorded during the spring testing was at Clinton Elementary School in South Elgin. The 3,120-ppb sample recorded at a first-floor sink was an outlier among other negative results but is still 624 times the state threshold.

The schools that reported the most failing sources of drinking water are located on the outskirts of the U46 boundaries. Wayne Elementary School in Wayne, Ill.; Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett, Ill.; Willard Elementary School in South Elgin, Ill.; and Ridge Circle Elementary School in Streamwood, Ill., reported more than 30 water samples with lead levels over 5 ppb.

Four of the 36 buildings, meanwhile, had no issues to report. Washington and Lowrie elementary schools in Elgin—some of the oldest schools in the district—had no cases of drinking sources above 5 ppb. The district's planetarium/observatory also had its drinking sources at safe drinking levels.

Water fountains and sinks used by preschoolers at Larkin High School's early learning center also reported low lead levels, according to its report. All five high schools, including the newer Bartlett and South Elgin high schools, were tested as a result of the five having preschool. The other four reported a combined five samples with lead levels over 5 ppb, but below the federal level; only sources used by preschoolers were tested at the high schools.

The district's central office building and adjoining DREAM Academy collected seven drinking water samples with failing lead levels.

The district is in the process of updating drinking fountains. According to the district, workers installed approximately 130 water bottle filtration stations or retrofit filters across U46 in the past three years. Fergus said the district will continue installing these stations at the schools this summer into the school year, with the most recently tested schools getting them first.

As a result of the lead testing, sources that failed to meet the minimum state standard will either be shut off, upgraded with a new filter, or replaced. Furthermore, any water fountain inside a classroom that failed will be shut off entirely.

Once classes resume this August, all sinks in bathrooms, nurses' offices, kitchenettes, cafeterias, labs, makerspaces and any other locations will have signs labeling them as hand-washing-only stations. 

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