The details of lead testing in St. Charles schools show multiple instances of contamination more than 10 times the level deemed safe by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. School officials believe some of the largest levels measured are the result of flaws in the testing procedure, but they aren't taking any chances.
The EPA-established safe level for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion. Some sinks and faucets in St. Charles schools showed lead levels of more than 100 parts per billion.
John Baird, the district's assistant superintendent for operations, said there were multiple instances where certain sinks or faucets were not properly flushed before the lead level was measured. The idea is to simulate normal use of sinks and fountains by running water through them the day before testing.
"When that didn't happen, that means the water tested was sitting in there since mid-May," Baird said. "The level measured was an accumulation of lead since the last time the sink was used."
Of the 129 sinks or fountains found to have problematic lead levels, 106 were sinks, none of which were replaced. Instead, they were either fitted with special filters or tagged with "Hand Washing Only" signs.
District officials were focused more on drinking fountains where students could actually consume the high lead contamination if they didn't let the water run for a few seconds before drinking. All problematic fountains were addressed before the start of school.
"If we didn't remove it, and we didn't abandon it, we replaced it, in all situations," Baird said. "There's enough drinking fountains. We really shouldn't be drinking out of classroom sinks. Those are slop sinks."
Sinks and fountains fitted with filters will receive regular monitoring. Filters will be replaced every six months or sooner if needed.
School board members said they were pleased the district took a proactive approach to the contamination. District officials had no evidence of lead contamination before the testing.
High lead levels discovered in multiple schools in Chicago this summer inspired the $33,000 testing in St. Charles. District staff members will provide the complete additional cost of addressing the problematic sinks and faucets at the next school board meeting. Baird said each new fountain costs up to $800.