Preliminary testing conducted over the summer months has found elevated lead levels in 30 school buildings within the St. Louis Public School System.
Close to half of the schools throughout the district began the school year this week with at least one drinking fountain or sink shut off due to elevated lead levels. While one drinking fountain and one sink were shut off at Meramec Elementary, students at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy found yellow tape and "out of order" tags attached to a drinking fountain on the first floor.
The governing board of St. Louis Public Schools decided in June to proceed with voluntary testing of all consumable water sources located in any building that serves children. In addition to water testing, the $328,000 contract made with Environmental Consultants LLC includes asbestos abatement.
Water samples were collected by consultants from a total of 744 drinking fountains and sinks in all 74 buildings located throughout the district that serve children in any form of capacity. Of those, preliminary data show that 82 were found to have elevated lead levels.
Letters were sent to each of the parents of the 30 affected schools, informing them of the elevated lead levels, as well as the number of sinks and drinking fountains that are no longer being used as a result of the situation.
"They will remain closed until we are able to remediate the lead level concern," wrote Karessa Morrow, principal of Meramec Elementary.
Bottled water will be provided by the district for a total of 12 schools that had the drinking fountains outside the cafeteria shut off or had multiple drinking fountains shut off. An additional 18 schools were found to have elevated levels of lead in the water, but the majority of their water fountains had either low or non-existant levels lead, and so bottled water was not necessary for these schools, reports Elisa Crouch for The St. Louis Dispatch.
While lead-based paint has been removed and remediated by crews across the district for the last few years at all schools that enroll children under the age of seven, district officials say that this is thought to be the first time that water sources within the buildings have been tested for lead.
The tap water throughout the city of St. Louis is routinely tested for lead and other contaminants. While there is not currently a concern for lead in municipal water, older pipes in individual homes and buildings could be a source for lead.
"Where it's found historically is inside the building's plumbing or in the service line," said Curt Skouby, director of public utilities for St. Louis. "So you might have a lead service line or a lead solder, and some drinking fountains have components that leach lead."
Final testing results should be arriving soon, with plans to release the information to the public late this week. A report from district officials will include information pertaining to where the high lead levels can be found. Plans are already in the works to replace drinking fountains, faucets, and pipes. Once the repairs have been made, the water will be retested in order to ensure safety.