News

Schools put on bottled water

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Three schools in the Federal Way Public Schools district have slightly higher levels of lead or copper than the Environmental Protection Agency's standard for drinking water.

But according to the EPA, the agency has a separate recommendation for lead levels in the water of schools which is higher, and the district's test results are within that recommendation.

The district tested the water at all of its facilities –– taking six samples from different locations –– and found 36 of the buildings met levels set by the federal EPA for drinking water. Two schools, Brigadoon Elementary and Nautilus Elementary, had lead levels above the federal standard. Kilo Middle School's results showed copper levels higher than what is accepted by the federal agency.

Students and staff at the schools are using bottled water while the school district takes steps to lower the lead and copper levels. Letters were sent to parents and guardians explaining the results and assuring them the district was taking action to correct the situation.

It's believed the three schools have pipes or fixtures that are corroded, allowing metals to get into the water.

When the district tested the water in its pipes a decade ago the results were below the federal limits.

Lead, in dangerous amounts, can delay mental and physical development in children and cause kidney issues and high blood pressure in adults, according to the EPA.

Lead is odorless and tasteless.

The agency's acceptable level of lead in water from public water systems is .015 ppb. The levels were .017 at Brigadoon and .016 at Nautilus.

But the EPA has a separate recommendation for schools and daycares. It recommends that lead levels in those buildings not be higher than .020 ppb.

Tom Murphy, the district's superintendent, directed that the EPA's lower lead level be the maximum allowed in the schools' water lines, said district spokeswoman Debra Stenberg.

Copper levels are not to exceed 1.3 micrograms per liter (mg/L) per the EPA, and Kilo had 1.4 mg/L.

Rod Leland, the district's director of facility services, said the lead is coming from brass rings in the faucets. Lead is added to the brass to make it more malleable, according the EPA's website.

At other districts, including Seattle Public Schools, officials found that standing water in the sinks allowed lead levels to accumulate.

Leland said the faucets used in the tests were being replaced. If new tests planned for either this weekend or next conclude lead levels are lower, the district will replace all the faucets in the two schools.

Once tests have been taken, the results will be known about two weeks later.

Leslie Thorpe, of the state's Department of Health (DOH), confirmed standing water in corroding pipes can cause the level of lead and copper to climb. EPA and DOH recommend flushing pipes in homes with cold water to lower levels of lead, copper and iron.

At Kilo, the suspect is a three-inch pipe that loops through the school and supplies water to sinks, toilets and the kitchen. It can hold 2,000 gallons of water, and Leland said it will be flushed and retested to determine if copper is leaching into standing water in the line. The pipe isn't used as much as when the school was originally built in the late 1960s, because students are not showering after pbysical education. Also, students and staff are bringing their own bottled water into the school and consequently drinking fountains and sinks are used less.

The district gets its water from area utility districts, but they are not considered the source of the lead. Thorpe said the state doesn't have any lead in source waters or water from utility districts. Also, lead occurring naturally in water is rare in the West compared to other parts of the country, she said.

The Federal Way district has spent more than $9,800 on water tests.

Higher-than-accepted lead levels in schools has been an issue in Seattle schools. The school Board there passed new water-quality requirements this week that are more stringent than the federal standards. The district had water tests conducted at several schools earlier this year after parents complained about iron in the water. The tests revealed high lead levels in 25 percent of the drinking fountains.

All of the buildings in the Seattle district were tested and all the water sources in those buildings. The district determined many of the faucets and fixtures and some of the pipes to those fixtures were deterorating. Standing water in the lines and fixtures had high levels of lead and iron. Schools built before 1997 were placed on bottled water while the tests were conducted and afterward if the tests revealed high levels.

The district spent $265,000 last fiscal year on bottled water.

Four schools had full pipe replacement over the summer while others had fixtures and some pipes replaced. Thirty-eight of the schools have been taken off bottled water and are using the water system. But later tests showed standing water in faucets can make the lead level spike, but running water through it brought the level down.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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