May 31, 2016

Monitoring Lead in School Drinking Water

Louisville Water Company initiates testing program in Kentucky

lead, drinking, water, fountain, school, testing, sampling, laboratory, analyzer

The EPA’s guidance documentation “3 Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities: Training, Testing, Telling” recommends schools routinely test their facility’s drinking water, with a focus on lead levels in drinking water fountains. In launching the 3 Ts campaign, EPA’s provides school officials and childcare facility operators with tools to understand and address lead in drinking water in their local communities.

Based on these recommendations, the Louisville Water Company located in Louisville, Ky., initiated a School Lead Monitoring Program which provided services for sampling supplies, training, certified analysis and reporting for at least 15% of school facilities annually.

As each facility was allocated resources for the testing of only two fountains, selections were based on frequency of use, location, make and model. Samples were analyzed for levels of lead using laboratory Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS), with a cost per sample of approximately $25.

The EPA recommends all water outlets in schools that provide water for drinking or cooking meet a standard of 20 ppb of lead or less. Louisville Water’s program takes remedial actions for any samples showing results above a 10 μg/L warning level. Collectively, the sample preparation, initial analysis, reporting and follow up analysis would take three to five weeks to complete, thereby producing long delays to any remedial action.

Organization of an effective system to enable consistent laboratory testing required time to coordinate. In addition, as most schools have between six to 40 drinking water fountains and only two fountains had to be selected, choosing which fountains to test posed questions. Further facility and fountain evaluation was often recommended, creating additional pressure on already limited resources.

The existing lead monitoring program needed to increase the number of fountains sampled, frequency of sampling and considerably reduce the time taken to produce analytical test data, thereby allowing effective and timely remediation actions to be taken.

The need to implement effective procedures was further emphasized with the introduction of the “Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act” by U.S. Congress in 2011, which became effective Jan. 4, 2014, creating pressure for improvements in drinking water quality.

During 2013, Louisville Water purchased two Palintest SA1100 Scanning Analyzers for use in the School Lead Monitoring Program. Each test using the scanner took approximately three minutes.

If any fountain exceeded the lead warning concentration of 10μg/L, samples were taken to the certified laboratory for confirmation of elevated lead levels on the AAS. In the meantime, the fountain was immediately removed from service, thereby removing the risk and allowing for swift corrective actions and location of the source of the issue. 

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