Atlanta schools reduce lead in water; Fulton, DeKalb begin testing


When the Atlanta school district tested the drinking water in schools and other buildings earlier this year, it found high levels of lead in at least one source in nearly 40 percent of district facilities. But after repairs, follow-up testing showed lower levels in all those buildings.

Atlanta began testing this spring, after news of dangerously high lead levels in Flint, Mich. DeKalb County schools and Fulton County schools are also testing their facilities.

To date, DeKalb has completed testing at two buildings. One, Redan Elementary School, had elevated lead levels in two drinking water sources. Those water sources have been turned off and the district plans to replace fixtures it believes are contributing to lead in the water, according to a statement posted on DeKalb’s water-testing website.

Fulton’s testing program is limited to the 14 district buildings with plumbing systems or components installed before 1986. The testing started last week, and results are expected by the end of next week, district spokeswoman Susan Hale said.

No law requires testing water for lead in Georgia schools or day care centers.

And there’s no state or federal rule regulating lead in schools’ drinking water. But there are some guidelines:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that school water fountains not exceed lead concentrations of 1 part per billion.
  • Federal law requires water systems, such as Atlanta Watershed, to try to reduce lead in drinking water if tests show lead levels above 15 parts per billion.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that schools and child-care facilities make repairs if any samples from any one drinking water source show results above 20 parts per billion.

 

Even low levels of lead in children’s blood can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, slowed growth and other problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Atlanta, initial tests found lead levels above 20 parts per billion in 42 of the 113 buildings tested, district records obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act show. In most schools, one or two water fountains or sinks had high levels. But at East Lake Elementary, which is currently closed, 58 percent of sources tested had high lead levels.

District staff flushed water lines and made repairs at facilities district-wide.

As of this month, follow-up testing found levels below 20 parts per billion in all buildings.

But tests still found lead in water fountains and sinks in several Atlanta schools. Lead testing results for a classroom sink at Mary Lin Elementary School, for example, still showed 10 parts per billion, even after three rounds of repairs and retesting.

The district will develop a regular water-testing schedule and flush all taps and fountains in schools that have been unoccupied for longer than seven days, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said in a written statement.

But experts say test results can vary significantly depending on how testing is conducted. And even voluntary testing and repairs, like in Atlanta and DeKalb, are no guarantee.

“You can never say with certainty as long as you have lead plumbing the water is safe,” Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor who led research uncovering dangerous lead levels in drinking water in Flint and Washington, D.C., told the AJC this summer.



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