Latest Schools Lead Tests Show Some Problems Persist

Tuesday, September 6, 2016, 8:16 pm
Ian Hoopingarner

Above: a hallway water fountain at East Lansing High School (tested and found safe).

Lead problems persist in some of East Lansing Public Schools’ water fountains. This is the underlying message of a new letter sent out to district parents (9/1/16) by ELPS Superintendent Robyne Thompson.

Thompson’s latest update addresses the third round of lead testing conducted in the district since high lead levels were detected in a classroom sink at Glencairn Elementary in January of this year. As awareness of the dangers of lead contamination of drinking water has grown among East Lansing residents due to the national news coverage of the lead crisis in Flint, parents have pushed East Lansing’s school district to test the plumbing fixtures in its buildings for lead.

Three rounds of testing have been done thus far. The first was completed in March and April, when ELi reported that the water from 31 faucets in the district exceeded the 15 ppb (parts per billion) “action level” for lead. The second round of tests were conducted in May. The latest ELPS letter, sent by the Superintendent’s office last week, addressed the third round of testing, which was conducted in late July and early August.

The 15 ppb “action level” for lead is set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but it doesn’t represent a maximum acceptable level nor a health guideline. Instead, 15 ppb is simply the minimum level at which EPA rules require immediate action. The EPA, the WHO, the CDC, and most recently the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that there is “no safe level” for the ingestion of lead.

During the first round of testing at East Lansing public schools, samples were collected on the first and second draw, which is standard operating procedure for lead sampling. During the second round of testing, samples were taken after a 30-second and a 2-minute flushing of the pipes. In the third round, only certain areas of continued concern were re-tested.

At Donley Elementary, March testing had showed lead levels as high as 76 ppb. The plumbing fixture for the highest-lead-level faucet was replaced at that time, and in May that faucet tested under the 15 ppb action level after a 30-second and 2-minute flushing. In the third round of testing on August 1st, first-draw samples showed lead levels were below the action level.

At Glencairn Elementary, three areas of concern were retested. The first involved a girls’ bathroom sink near Mr. Bean’s classroom. In March, it had showed lead levels of 15 ppb and 160 ppb, and so the fixtures were replaced. In May, it was tested again and registered below the detection limits. The latest round of testing on July 26 showed 4.1 ppb on the first draw and lead levels below the detection limit on the second draw.

The second Glencairn Elementary area recently retested was the sink in Mr. Foster’s room. In March, it showed 15 ppb and 7.2 ppb on the first and second draw lead tests. After the faucet’s aerator was cleaned, in May it retested at 1.4 and 1.2 ppb, after flushing. In the latest round of testing, the first and second draw samples measured 10 ppb and 1.4 ppb, respectively.

The third area of concern at Glencairn Elementary, a classroom sink in Ms. Nordquist’s room, had tested at 130 ppb and 5.9 ppb in March. The aerator was cleaned and the fixture replaced, and in May, after flushing, it tested below detection limits. Most recently, the July 26 samples showed lead levels at 4.8 ppb and 1.9 ppb on the first and second draws.

At Pinecrest Elementary, two fixtures in the kitchen, one of them a sprayer and the other a sink, returned unacceptable results in March: 1.7 ppb and 98 ppb for the sprayer and 13 ppb and 12 ppb for the sink. In May, both fixtures tested below the action level after flushing. On July 26, the kitchen sink tested below the action level at 9.3 ppb and 6.0 ppb. The sprayer, however, tested at 19 ppb on the first draw and has since been replaced. Retest results for that fixture are pending, the Superintendent’s office says.

A Pinecrest Elementary sink in Mr. Konett’s room was tested at 43 ppb and 32 ppb in March, and the fixtures were replaced. Since then, in May the flushed results showed lead levels below detection limits, and the latest round of testing showed lead below the action level.

An unused sink near Ms. Looney’s classroom at Pinecrest Elementary tested at 740 ppb and 180 ppb in March. The fixtures were immediately replaced. The latest round of testing showed 7.1 ppb on the first draw and below detection on the second draw.

At Whitehills Elementary, a sink in Ms. Wagner’s classroom had tested at 37 ppb and 51 ppb in March, and at 33 ppb and 1.1 ppb after flushing in May. The latest round of tests shows lead levels of 4.8 ppb and 1.0 ppb.

MacDonald Middle School had the most areas of continued concern, including five sinks in the unused Room 260. After the latest round of testing, two of those sinks still have lead levels over the action level, and continue to be labeled “Do Not Drink.”

Two kitchen sinks at MacDonald Middle School had initially been shown to have 28 ppb and 13 ppb, and 7.4 ppb and 43 ppb, in March. The latest round of testing shows that both sinks are below the lead action level, registering 1.1 ppb and 1.1 ppb; and 4.1 ppb and 3.2 ppb, respectively.

Another sink in MacDonald Middle School’s Room 182 had initially tested at 19 ppb and 44 ppb in May, and July 26 retesting shows it now measures at 9.5 ppb of lead.

A unisex bathroom sink was the most publicly-accessible area of concern at MacDonald Middle School. In April, it had initially tested at 4.6 ppb and 16 ppb, and after flushing in May it had tested at 58 ppb and 7.2 ppb. As of the July 26 retests, the first and second draw samples showed 14 ppb and 2 ppb.

At East Lansing High School, one drinking fountain in Room 715, which is an unused room, was measured at 25 ppb and 24 ppb for lead in April, and was taken out of service. Flushing before sampling in May reduced the lead levels to 3.8 ppb, but the July 26 retests showed that the first and second draw samples were still much higher than the EPA action level, at 54 ppb and 57 ppb, respectively. The fountain remains out of service.


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This article was reported for you by Ian Hoopingarner, a graduate of ELPS and MSU. Want to know more about Ian and other reporters on the ELi team? Click here.