More than half of the Atlanta Public Schools buildings that were tested earlier in the spring were found to have elevated levels of lead in the drinking water, with some showing rates as high as 15 times the federal limit for water systems.
“What was most upsetting to me were the numbers that were really, really high,” said Amy Kirby, an assistant professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
To date, 30 schools and other buildings have been tested, according to results found under Georgia’s Open Records Act. Of those, 14 schools and two additional buildings were found to have at least one source, such as a water fountain or kitchen tap, that had lead levels above federal limits. Testing is expected to be completed by the end of July.
Most buildings that showed elevated lead levels came from a single source, like a single water fountain or kitchen tap. However, other buildings were found to have elevated levels at multiple sources.
Larry Hoskins, Atlanta Public Schools operations chief, noted that any water fountain or kitchen tap found to have lead levels above federal limits have been shut down.
“We will not allow people access to those … until we are 100 percent sure that the drinking water is below the 15 parts per billion threshold,” Hoskins said.
Parents whose children attend the schools that have been found to have high lead levels have been notified to inform their children not to drink from the school drinking fountain. Instead, it is suggested that parents send their children to school with bottled water.
Testing was the result of a national focus on drinking water that came about after dangerously high lead levels were found in the water supply in Flint, Michigan. Dozens of school districts across the nation have already begun testing their water levels, with lead being discovered in several major cities including Chicago, Newark, Portland, and Washington, DC, writes Joseph Erbentraut for The Huffington Post.
There is currently no federal or state law in existence that requires the testing of water levels in schools or daycare centers in the state of Georgia. Several districts in the state have noted that they have not systematically tested school drinking water, although some have said that they do perform water quality testing on a “case-by-case” basis.
Hoskins said, “We want to do everything we possibly can to be proactive in understanding potential threats to our students.”
However, because no safe level of lead exposure for children exists, even those who attend schools that were not flagged for having high levels could be at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that even low levels of lead have been connected to behavior and learning problems, a lower IQ, and stunted growth, among other problems.
It is possible for lead to enter drinking water through corroded pipes or from brass or chrome-plated faucets or fixtures that have lead solder. Molly Bloom reports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that buildings erected prior to 1986 are at a higher risk of having lead pipes, fixtures, or solder.