FOX 8 uncovers lead water levels in some area schools are higher than pediatricians recommend

Updated: Nov. 19, 2018 at 9:04 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In a FOX 8 investigation, we uncover lead levels in drinking water in some area schools higher than pediatricians recommend.

Following the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, The American Academy of Pediatrics called for stricter regulations for children’s drinking water. They recommend that lead concentrations at school water fountains don’t exceed 1 part per billion.

The Academy says, “Even at half the levels previously considered safe, growing evidence shows a child’s exposure to lead can cause irreversible cognitive and behavioral problems.”

“Very low doses affect them where it wouldn’t affect us, so that is something that we need to be concerned about. And then remember - this is something that accumulates, it accumulates in your body throughout our life,” said LSU Health researcher Adrienne Katner.

A FOX 8 investigation found that some samples taken from local schools were higher than that 1 part per billion recommendation.

Right now school systems in Louisiana are not legally required to test for water lead levels unless they’re on their own water system. That’s because often times, the school system uses water from the city utility, and that utility’s water must undergo both federal and state lead and copper monitoring.

But the EPA offers guidance for school systems that choose to test for lead and recommends taking action whenever there are elevated lead water levels in schools.

Jefferson Parish Public Schools spokesman Ted Beasly says they were proactive and hired a private company to do testing at 20 schools over the summer.

“Obviously, I think it would always be best if there were zero levels of lead. I think in that test 90 percent of the fountains they tested had zero levels of lead,” said Beasley.

FOX 8 obtained those results through a public records request and found a sample taken from a cafeteria water fountain at Mildred Harris Elementary came back at 23.3 parts per billion. Remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels don’t exceed 1 part per billion.

Reporter: “Were parents notified about that elevated lead level?”

Beasley: “Yes, parents have been notified at Harris Elementary.”

Reporter: “Should they be concerned about that lead level?”

Beasley: “No, they shouldn’t be concerned now because the problem has been taken care of, and if I remember correctly that was the only fountain at the school that had the problem. The water coming in, it was not a systemic problem, it was just at that one location.”

While lead wasn’t detected in most of the samples taken in the 20 Jefferson Parish Public schools tested, water fountains at G.T. Woods Elementary, East Jefferson High, Phoebe Hearst Elementary, Ford Middle, Ellender Middle School, John Ehret High, West Jefferson High, and B.A. St. Ville Elementary all had samples that tested above the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation.

“We were pleased with the results from the testing but we know we need to keep that going as well,” said Beasley. “I’d want parents to know the safety of their student, that’s our top responsibility.”

Earlier this year, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law requiring the State Health Department test annually for lead in water at selected public elementary schools.

“There’s been a lot of concern about lead in drinking water since Flint, Michigan. Issues cropped up and schools around the country who are not looking at their aging infrastructure are wondering do they have lead in their water in their schools,” said State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry.

As part of a new pilot program, the Louisiana Department of Health tested 12 schools across the state built prior to 1986 that had no plumbing or water fountain changes since that time.

“There’s a lot of old schools in our state, obviously, and we want to know are children being exposed to lead when they don’t need to be,” said Guidry.

In our area, the state tested five schools. At Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies in New Orleans a kitchen sample came back at 15 parts per billion. At Covington Elementary School, a kitchen sampled showed a lead result of 12 parts per billion, and at a Harahan Elementary water fountain, the state found lead at 7 parts per billion.

Guidry says while the results were better than expected it doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

“I think there are schools out there that may have this issue so we really want to promote talking to school systems that they may want to look at their water in their schools because of the aging infrastructure, the aging buildings, the aging water fountains so that they can rule out that this is a risk,” said Guidry.

LSU Health researcher Adrienne Katner has studied lead in New Orleans drinking water for years. She says the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of 1 part per billion is very hard to achieve. “Because NSF allows up to 5 parts per billion of lead to leech into the water from brass faucet fixtures so, some other people say 5 parts per billion might be a good thing to aim for, it might be more realistic than 1 part per billion,” said Katner.

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