News

School officials zeroing in on water quality

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

In the future, Federal Way Public Schools will know what’s in the water.

The School Board has taken a first look at a proposed policy outlining future water tests in schools and other buildings in the district. Three schools in the district were put on bottled water at the end of last year after tests revealed lead and copper levels higher than the district allowed.

There are also two bills in the Legislature that would give the state Board of Health authority to set water-quality standards in school buildings for certain elements including lead, copper and cadmium. The proposed legislation –– Senate Bill 5029 and House Bill 1123 –– also call for standards on corrosion within schools.

Rod Leland, the Federal Way school district’s facilities director, said he would like the School Board to wait on approving the policy until the outcomes of the bills in Olympia are determined.

While the state’s Department of Health enforces standards on water suppliers, school districts are left to police themselves. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does recommend lead in schools not exceed 20 parts per billion (ppb), but Federal Way schools use the standard for water suppliers of 15 ppb.

The district’s proposed policy is lead levels not to exceed 15 ppb, and copper not be higher than 1.3 parts per million (ppm). The district is also considering a standard for iron in drinking water of 5 ppm. Seattle Public Schools, which also had high lead levels at some schools, has adopted a 10 ppb standard.

Leland said Federal Way wasn’t considering the lower standard because it was arbitrarily arrived at and not based on evidence or recommendations from water authorities.

Board members requested Leland bring the proposal back with a testing schedule.

According to the EPA, cadmium has short-term effects such as diarrhea and nausea, among others, if people are exposed to more than is recommended. Long-term effects are bone, liver and blood damage. The federal agency recommends cadmium not be higher than 5 ppb in the water supply.

Water testing in school districts became a popular subject after Seattle’s schools revealed lead levels in several of its schools were high. The Seattle-King County Public Health Department sent a letter to all the districts in the county recommending water testing last year. Federal Way was just starting after not testing since the early 1990. County health officials said most districts in King County have tested the water in their schools.

Federal Way’s Brigadoon and Nautilus elementary schools had lead levels higher than the district’s own standards. Kilo Middle School’s results came back with copper levels above the allowed amount. The schools were supplied with bottled water while solutions were tried and tested.

A second batch of test results came back showing all three schools were within the district’s guidelines - which are the same as the water suppliers’. Leland decided to keep Brigadoon and Kilo on bottled water for a third round of tests to make sure the solutions he ordered were working.

At the elementary schools, district officials suspected standing water in some of the fixtures were causing the high lead level. Although lead solder has not been used for decades, lead is still mixed with brass to make the metal malleable. Leland and his staff believed some brass components in the fixtures were corroding. Replacing the fixtures appeared to be the solution.

A large copper pipe in the walls of Kilo is considered the culprit for the high level. Not as much water moves through that supply line as in the past because students aren’t taking showers in the locker room anymore, Leland said.

Also, students and staff are bringing bottled water to the school and not using the school’s fountains and sinks as frequently.

As a result, Leland believes the concentration of copper in the standing water is growing. He has concluded that flushing the pipe regularly would be an adequate solution.

The third round of test results will become available in the next couple of weeks.

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

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