By Warren Tenney
In the first six months of 2017, Arizona will screen water samples from 7,000 school buildings looking for unsafe levels of lead. The program is designed to determine if drinking water is contaminated by lead that might be present in a school’s plumbing lines, water fountains and faucets. Water sits in a school’s plumbing systems unused over weekends and during holiday and summer breaks, which increases the risk of lead leaching from the building’s lines and fixtures into the water. Recently, a school in Nogales tested its drinking water on its own and found a lead problem. The school discovered the source of lead was its water heaters and replaced them.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is conducting this program with the help of state education agencies and local utilities, including AMWUA cities. The catastrophic lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan raised awareness about the dangers of lead. Arizona and other states are moving ahead with sampling programs to protect the health of their youngest citizens. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can impair their hearing, growth and intelligence. Pregnant women also can pass lead to their unborn children.
The federal government limits the lead content in drinking water and, in 1987, it limited the lead content of copper plumbing pipes and solders. That puts older school buildings at higher risk for lead contamination. There are about 6,500 Arizona school buildings older than 1987. Arizona’s Public School Drinking Water Lead Screening Program will test these buildings plus a random sampling of newer schools.
Two samples will be taken from each identified school building. ADEQ provides the sampling kits and instructions, prepaid shipping boxes and lab testing at no cost to the schools. ADEQ will receive all screening reports. Here’s what ADEQ will do if lead is found to be at higher levels in a school’s drinking water:
- Alert the school and the Arizona Department of Health Services and provide the school with information to share with parents.
- Recommend immediate actions the school can take to eliminate lead exposure.
- Inform the Arizona School Facilities Board (SFB), the state agency that helps maintain public school buildings, which will work on long-term solutions.
This ambitious program means collecting and testing nearly 1,000 samples a week.
Cities perform more than 100 tests on drinking water in their delivery systems each day to ensure it meets all safe drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ADEQ. Municipal water systems end at a home or building’s water meter. The cities are stepping up to assist ADEQ to test water on the school’s side of the meter. It is not the cities’ responsibility, but cities are run by people who understand the importance of providing kids with the safest water possible. Here’s how the cities are using their resources to help ADEQ accomplish this job:
- The City of Phoenix has worked with ADEQ to help plan the screening program. Phoenix will help assemble sampling kits, drop them off at city schools, pick up the samples and screen them in its water quality lab.
- The City of Peoria will deliver sampling kits to its schools, pick up the samples and deliver them to ADEQ for screening.
- The City of Scottsdale has decided to sample and test for lead in all of its public schools. Scottsdale will go beyond the state program and offer the same sampling and analysis to private and charter schools and day care programs.
- The City of Tempe will collect samples from Tempe schools and test the samples at the city’s water quality lab.
- The City of Glendale will prepare and deliver sampling kits to schools, pick up the samples from the schools and take them to the city’s lab for screening.
- The City of Chandler will offer to schools analysis and guidance for lead sampling results.
- Some AMWUA cities already tested their schools. Last school year, the Town of Gilbert contacted public elementary, junior high, and high schools from three school districts served by the Gilbert water system. In May, Gilbert tested samples from 46 public schools for lead and copper and all were found to have acceptable levels. Gilbert schools also will be screened through the ADEQ program.
Learn more about the Public School Drinking Water Lead Screening Program, including which schools are on the list. Any city or utility willing to help with the screening program can contact Daniel Czecholinkski at 602 771-4617 or email him at Czecholinski.Daniel@azdeq.gov. Designated schools that want to coordinate and schedule the screening can send an email to LeadScreeningProgram@azdeq.gov or contact David Burchard at 602-771-4298.
For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.