St. Charles schools show high lead levels

  • Thompson Middle School in St. Charles is one of only three District 303 buildings where testing revealed no elevated lead levels in the water. Officials are taking corrective action at all the problem sites to ensure clean water by the first day of school next week.

    Thompson Middle School in St. Charles is one of only three District 303 buildings where testing revealed no elevated lead levels in the water. Officials are taking corrective action at all the problem sites to ensure clean water by the first day of school next week. Daily Herald File Photo, 2009

 
 
Updated 8/17/2016 6:02 PM

Almost all of St. Charles' schools have unsafe levels of lead flowing out of multiple drinking fountains, according to tests District 303 officials recently completed.

School officials spent $33,000 to test all 19 buildings operated by the district. The decision followed the discovery of high lead levels in nearly 100 Chicago schools this summer.

 

Given the ages of some of the St. Charles school buildings, officials expected to find some problem areas. Trouble spots proved to be limited in number. About 79 percent of the drinking fountains and faucets tested showed no lead problems.

However, the trouble spots that testing did reveal were widespread. Corron and Norton Creek elementary schools, as well as Thompson Middle School, were the only three buildings where testing revealed no lead problems at any drinking fountains or sink faucets.

A total of 263 drinking fountains in the school buildings were tested. Of those, 24 fountains showed lead levels high enough, under federal EPA guidelines, to warrant removal or replacement.

District officials are already in the process of repairing or replacing those drinking fountains to ensure the safety of students when they begin the new school year next Wednesday.

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Testing also measured lead levels coming from 345 sink faucets at district buildings. Of those, 106 faucets showed problematic lead levels. District officials do not plan on replacing those sinks.

Most of the faucets, such as those in science classrooms, are only occasionally used by students or staffers. They will now carry clear labels reading, "Hand Washing Only."

The actual water supply to the district buildings tested safe. That means the most likely source of lead contamination is the solder used to connect copper pipes in the fountains and faucets, district officials said.

Asked what the district's message is to students who have regularly consumed water from the problematic fountains, district spokesman Jim Blaney said the actual lead exposure was most likely minimal.

"For the levels we're talking about here, just opening the fountain and running some water through it for a few seconds would be enough to flush out that sitting water out of a pipe that has the lead in it," Blaney said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency standard of unsafe levels is anything in excess of 15 parts per billion. District 303 did not provide specifics on the level or amount of lead found in its tests.

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