Early results of a sweeping effort to test drinking water at Arizona public schools have revealed elevated levels of lead in at least 26 schools with hundreds still to be tested.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has posted test results for 123 schools, meaning roughly one out of five schools tested so far has had levels of lead exceeding federal guidelines in at least one of its buildings.
Seven schools in the Alhambra Elementary District, which serves children in Phoenix and Glendale, had lead levels exceeding federal guidelines, according to state records. One of those seven schools is now a family resource center, according to district spokesperson Linda Jeffries.
Alhambra district staff tested water quality in every building in January and early February.
"In most instances within the seven locations, it was one sink or one drinking fountain in a classroom or a building that was not frequently used by students," Jeffries said.
Andalucia Middle School had the most "exceedances,” with failed water tests in three locations, she said.
Jeffries said the lead issues appear to be isolated to certain older fixtures. Lead from old pipes or fixtures can slowly leach into the water as it idles inside.
She said staff immediately shut off affected fixtures, posted "no drinking" signs and sent letters home to notify parents.
"There's nothing to be worried about. It is not a school-wide or system-wide problem," she said.
ADEQ plans to collect data on more than 1,200 schools. Screening of high-risk schools should be completed by June, said ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera. The department considers schools built before the 1987 ban on lead pipes and those serving children under five to be at high risk.
Cabrera said the department measures the number of failed tests by individual buildings within a school. When evaluating that metric, about 2.5 percent of school buildings tested had elevated levels of lead.
There has never been a documented case of lead poisoning linked to drinking water in Arizona, he said.
"Because exposures due to drinking water are so low, there's no need for panic," he said, "but out of an abundance of care we're doing this program so that we can understand and get our arms around what those potential exposures might be."
Tolleson Union High School also had lead exceeding the federal screening level of 15 parts per billion. The school sent a letter to parents notifying them of the results on March 3, the same day the school was notified.
"While all of the school's water sources are safe for hand washing and toilet use, we are taking this extremely seriously," the letter states, adding that "all drinking fountains and water faucets that did not meet safe standards have been taken offline."
The school is now awaiting the results of a second round of testing to see if common methods of alleviating lead levels are effective, said spokesman Joseph Ortiz. The most common method is flushing, where staff members run water fountains for several minutes before students are permitted to drink from them.
Concerned parents should instruct their children to run water fountains for about a minute before taking a sip, Cabrera said. The department has other tips and information here.
The following schools had lead levels in one of or more water fixtures above 15 parts per billion. The full results are available here. Andalucia Middle School, Alhambra Elementary District Barcelona Middle School, Alhambra Elementary District Catalina Ventura School, Alhambra Elementary District Cordova Middle School, Alhambra Elementary District Cordova Primary School (now a family resource center), Alhambra Elementary District Granada East School, Alhambra Elementary District Westwood Primary School, Alhambra Elementary District Alpine Elementary School, Alpine Elementary District Apache Junction High School, Apache Junction Unified District Blue Ridge High School, Blue Ridge Unified District Blue Ridge Intermediate School, Blue Ridge Unified District Casa Grande Middle School, Casa Grande Elementary District Palo Verde School, Casa Grande Elementary District Saguaro Elementary School, Casa Grande Elementary District Clarkdale-Jerome Elementary School, Clarkdale-Jerome Elementary District Crane Middle School, Crane Elementary District Paul H Huber Middle School, Douglas Unified District W F Killip Elementary School, Flagstaff Unified District Kyrene Aprende Middle School, Kyrene Elementary District Kyrene Altadena Middle School, Kyrene Elementary District Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle, Kyrene Elementary District Fort Thomas High School, Fort Thomas Unified District Madison Meadows School, Madison Elementary District San Manuel High School, Mammoth-San Manuel Unified District Tolleson Union High School, Tolleson Union High School District Gwyneth Ham Elementary School, Yuma Elementary District
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