News

Two schools still on bottled water

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

The test results are in and some students and staff will still be drinking bottled water at three local schools.

A second round of tests has revealed lead and copper levels are below the acceptable limit Federal Way Public Schools imposed on itself.

Brigadoon and Nautilus elementary schools had lead levels and Kilo Middle School had copper levels within the range the district set. But the district's facilities director is recommending that Kilo and Brigadoon continue using bottled water while the district runs one more test.

Rod Leland, the head of facilities, said the third test is planned so he can feel sure the correct action is being taken to keep the water safe. The results are expected to be available in about three weeks.

In late November, the district had an outside contractor test the water at all of its buildings. It was in light of Seattle Public Schools' discovery that lead levels in some of that district's schools were high, resulting in some major replacement work.

The Seattle-King County Public Health Department sent a letter in September last year to all school districts in the county, advising them to test the water in their buildings, said James Apa, a spokesman for the agency. Many districts took that advice and tested their older buildings, as the department recommended.

Federal Way had already contracted for the testing by the private company when the letter arrived, Leland said.

When the results for Federal Way came back in early December, the three schools were the only ones that didn't meet the district's standard.

The standard the district uses is more stringent than the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recommendation for lead and copper in school water. EPA recommends lead levels in schools not exceed 20 parts per billion (ppb). It requires that water sources, like Lakehaven Utility District in Federal Way, have lead levels not greater than 15 ppb. The school district chose to use the lower level.

At Brigadoon, the result of the first test was 17 ppb, and at Nautilus it was 16 ppb.

Copper is measured differently, and the EPA recommends 1.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Kilo was at 1.4mg/L.

While EPA, the state Department of Health and the county health department can advise school districts on water-quality issues, they don't have regulatory authority. Water lines leading to the schools are monitored by the state, but once they get into the buildings, it's up to the districts.

During the last session of the Legislature, there was some discussion about expanding the regulatory authority of the state or counties to include school districts, but it never got past that, Apa said.

Students and staff at the affected Federal Way schools were supplied with bottled water while the district determined the cause of the lead and copper in the water.

Leland and his staff suspected some of the fixtures in Nautilus and Brigadoon were old and leaching lead. Lead is combined with brass to make it malleable and there are brass components in the fixtures. At Kilo, there is a large copper pipe running through the school supplying water. It was believed standing water in the line was allowing copper elements to build, officials said.

Fixtures were replaced at Nautilus and Brigadoon. Unlike the first tests when a few fixtures were tested at the three schools, all of the faucets and drinking fountains people would likely drink from were tested the second time.

The copper line at Kilo was flushed, and a copper tube bringing water from the line to a drinking fountain was replaced. The copper level results on the second test were within what the district allowed, officials said.

Leland said he wants to replace another fixture at Brigadoon to see if that is the solution before ordering all of them replaced. While the results were lower than the district's threshold, they were still higher than Nautilus' results.

"It makes me scratch my head," Leland said.

Wanting to take more time and make sure the solutions he is ordering are correct, Leland said he is consulting more water experts about why Brigadoon's results are not as low as Nautilus'.

He also said he wants to narrow down the solution at Kilo: Is regularly flushing the copper pipe enough to keep the level down the answer? Or, does the copper tube going to the drinking fountain also need replacement? Leland said when his staff was inspecting the fountain, they didn't expect to find the copper tube.

A water testing plan is being drafted for the School Board to review in the near future, Leland said. The last time the district tested its water was a decade ago. He said tests will become more frequent as part of the proposed policy.

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

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