U-46 taking action on water fixtures with elevated lead levels
Elgin Area School District U-46 has begun replacing, repairing or shutting down hundreds of water fixtures reported to have elevated lead levels during state-mandated testing completed this year.
More than 3,000 water samples were collected from 37 buildings -- 27 of which were elementary schools -- from May 22 to 25. Of those samples, 349 tested at or above a state threshold of 5 parts per billion, and all but four sites contained at least one water fountain, cooler or sink with elevated lead levels, according to the district's testing results.
As required by a new state law, the district is now spending upward of $200,000 to take action -- much of which is expected to be completed this summer -- on the water fixtures, Chief Operations Officer Jeff King said.
A Daily Herald investigation last year of lead testing at 653 schools helped spark state legislation requiring all districts to test drinking water for lead contamination. Lead levels in the water at school district buildings constructed before 1987 must be tested by the end of the year, the new law says.
The U-46 school board in April authorized a $53,940 contract to Chicago-based consultants Carnow, Conibear & Assoc. Ltd. to complete the first phase of testing, according to district documents. Officials said a second phase will be completed for schools built between 1987 and 2000 by the end of next year, as the state law also requires.
The district released its first set of test results last week and notified parents whose children attend schools with above-threshold lead levels. Contractors collected at least two samples from each water source -- one immediately as the water was turned on, and another after the water had been running for 30 seconds.
More than half the 349 samples that contained elevated lead levels were still below the federal standard of 15 parts per billion, results show. Still, the lead in some water fixtures throughout the district tested in the hundreds, and one sample from a sink in Clinton Elementary School in South Elgin had a lead level of 3,120 parts per billion -- the highest reported.
Additionally, some schools, including Hanover Countryside Elementary School, had fewer than 10 water fixtures with elevated lead levels, while Wayne, Bartlett and Willard elementary schools were among those with dozens.
"I didn't have an expectation level because I didn't know what to expect," King said.
U-46 is now following state guidelines for taking action on the water fixtures that tested above 5 parts per billion, King said. All classroom drinking fountains will be shut off before school starts Aug. 16. Fountains outside the classroom and some other water sources will either be replaced or retrofitted to provide filtered water.
"We've ordered all filters and replacements, and we've already started work," King said. "As fast as this stuff comes in, we'll perform the work."
The district does not yet have any plans to remove the drinking fountains that will be shut off.
Additionally, sinks in bathrooms, kitchenettes, cafeterias, labs and other locations will be labeled "Hand Washing Only. Not Drinking Water" before the academic year begins. Lead in water cannot be absorbed through the skin, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The district has installed 131 water bottle filtration stations or retrofit filters in various buildings during the past three years. King said those water stations will continue to be installed this summer and into next school year, starting with the sites most recently tested.
"We are making sure each building has sufficient drinking water sources," King said.
Lead: No more drinking the water from sinks