Kids at Risk: Minnesota Schools Failing to Follow Guidelines on Testing for Lead in Water
September 08, 2016 11:17 AM
School officials across Minnesota are knowingly putting thousands of children at serious risk by not following guidelines on testing for lead in water and not fixing water systems that they know are defective, a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation has found.
Our news staff poured over the water testing records of more than 600 Minnesota schools and found at least one out of every four of those schools are not following the state’s recommendations that a school be tested at least once every five years. We found some schools that have not been tested for lead since the late 1990s.
When looking at the reports in the map embedded below, keep in mind the Minnesota Department of Health’s guideline for schools: If lead is at or below 20 parts per billion (ppb), the tap may be used for drinking water or food preparation. If lead exceeds 20 ppb, twice daily flushing should be done.
School districts are not on the hook for exposing children to increased health risks by having high amounts of lead in water, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found: The Minnesota Department of Health only recommends that schools test each tap or fixture providing water at least every five years.
And, it appears the department is lax when it comes to its oversight of monitoring schools that have gone long periods of not testing water. For example, records show Minneapolis Public Schools has not tested at least 31 of its schools since 1998. A district alternative school for pregnant and parenting students – Longfellow School – was last tested for lead amounts in 1998, according to district records.
“It’s a little surprising to me to hear that there are systems that have not been tested for very long periods of time,” Assistant Commissioner of Health Paul Allwood said. “I should point out that our guidelines are voluntary,” Allwood added. “That’s what we’re discussing – should there be additional authority.”
Document: MDH Guidance on Reducing Lead in Drinking Water
Minnesota communities that receive municipal water already test for lead in the system but health officials suggest schools test due to possible lead solder, brass fixtures, water usage and age of materials that could be in the water system students could drink from.
Dr. Marc Edwards, the nation’s leading authority on lead amounts in water, said in an interview that lead amounts of more than 20 parts per billion (ppb) is a critical health concern. Edwards is a professor at the Virginia Tech University and led the outcry over the recent contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
KSTP reporter Eric Chaloux went to Edwards’ lab on campus on in Blacksburg, Virginia, to learn more.
“Parents really need to hold schools’ feet to the fire to make sure this problem is fixed,” Edwards said. It costs as little as $30 to fix the problem when it comes to water fountains and high amounts of lead coming out of them, he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently stated school water fountains should not exceed water lead concentrations of more than 1 ppb.
In our records review, news reporters and producers found that school children from Burnsville, Savage and Eagan – District 191 – were exposed to lead levels up to 942 ppb from one drinking fountain tested in 2013. That amount ranks as one of highest contaminant levels detected in the records reviewed. That fountain is at Joseph Nicollet Junior High School in Burnsville.
“One drink from that fountain, that’s a health concern,” Edwards said when he reviewed those specific results.
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