Flushed out by a television news report, South Washington County Schools will pay an environmental consulting firm to test for lead in its school water systems.
The move comes after an investigation by KSTP-TV found that one in four schools in Minnesota did not follow state recommendations that water be tested for lead every five years. That included South Washington County Schools. The story revealed that District 833 has not conducted lead water testing since 2000.
School officials told station reporters that it would be too costly to conduct comprehensive testing for lead in all its facilities, but the story said the district later reversed its position and said it would have the testing done. District 833 will pay $43,000 to the Institute for Environmental Assessment to conduct the tests.
Barb Brown, the district's communications director, said the district did not have a reason for why they had not conducted a comprehensive test for nearly 16 years.
Monitoring water sources for lead traditionally would be the responsibility of the Facilities Department, Brown said.
Mike Vogel, interim director of facilities and construction, said that, although the school conducted its last comprehensive test in 2000, it may have conducted spot testing for lead since then.
"There may have been periodic testing between now and then but I don't have any records to support that," he said. "There's been turnover both at the health and safety position and also at the director of facilities level."
A new health and safety manager was hired 10 days ago, Vogel said Monday. His predecessor was there for 18 months.
"Once we get the results of the testing, first (we'll )identify what type of remediation is required if any, (and) budget for those remediation items."
Vogel said they will consider testing 20 percent of the buildings each year rather than all the buildings every five years.
More than 1,800 water fountains, sinks and other water sources in District 833 will be tested, including those in the District Service Center and the DPC Community Center. Personnel from the Institute for Environmental Assessment have already begun mapping out the sites to be tested.
Pat Weir, a spokesman for the testing and environmental consulting firm, said they will collect samples from each water source and send them to a third-party lab for testing.
Results are expected in October.
Meanwhile, the district has instructed schools and staff to flush each water source before drinking or using it for cooking or to make coffee.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that school drinking water not exceed 20 parts per billion of lead.
Children are especially susceptible to lead, which can often turn up in older schools with lead water pipes or copper pipes that were installed using lead solder. Brass fixtures in older model faucets and drinking fountains can also contain lead.