The Virginia General Assembly passed a law in 2017 requiring all public schools to test potable water for lead, meaning any water used for cooking and drinking, from kitchen faucets and water fountains to individual classrooms and classroom water fountains called bubblers.
“Requires each local school board to develop and implement a plan to test for lead and, if necessary, remediate potable water from sources identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as high priority for testing, giving priority in such testing plan to schools whose school building was constructed, in whole or in part, before 1986,” the bill states.
The issue of water testing — and timely release of information — recently became front and center: In November Virginia Beach City Public Schools had 61 (roughly 4 percent) of its tested water sources showed unacceptable lead levels. The school division said it fixed every water sources within two weeks, and it will now implement a “flushing program” that will clear the pipes each summer.
However, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-2nd) sent a letter to top education and city officials in Virginia Beach regarding the presence of lead in drinking water in local schools, the delay in notifying the public, and the distribution of information that may have created a false sense of safety, according to a news release sent by her office.
In the letter, Luria highlighted the lapse in the time – approximately seven weeks – between the school system learning of the elevated lead levels and public disclosure of that information.
Cities across the Peninsula test the water in their respective school districts, however, there are no guidelines as to how often the testing is done and if families need to be notified if there high amounts of lead found.
WYDaily reached out to the York County School Division, Hampton City Schools and Newport News Public Schools.
Here is how they handle water lead testing.
A spokesperson for Williamsburg-James City County Schools was not immediately available for comment.
- How often: Every 4 years, unless otherwise needed.
- Last test completed: 2016
- Parents notified: If an issue with the water test occurs.
- Water tester: Marine Chemist Services.
“There are a few reasons to test within that time period,” said Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for York County School Division. She added the last test did not garner any concerning results and in her seven years of working for the division, she has not seen any issues with the water which is supplied by Newport News Waterworks and City of Williamsburg Waterworks.
“When the state enacted new legislation requiring schools to have a plan, noting there are no changes coming from a municipal source, there isn’t typically going to be a change in levels,” she said. “When they didn’t have a specified time period, we try to do every four years.”
Goff said if an area is not used regularly, a water source might have an off level because of things sitting in the pipe.
For example, if a school adjust traffic patterns, there may be a water fountain no longer in a high traffic area, but it is rare something goes unused more than a summer, Goff said.
She added the report is not on the school district’s website, but the results are available by request.
- How often: Every two years
- Last test completed: 2018
- Parents notified: “If deemed necessary.”
- Water tester: Reed & Associates and Marine Chemist Service, Inc.
All but two Hampton City Schools, Hunter B. Andrews PreK-8 and Phenix PreK-8, were built in or before 1986, said Kellie Goral, a spokeswoman for Hampton City Schools.
Water testing began in 2018 and is expected to be tested again at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Goral said.
It’s unclear how many sources of water in the schools have tested above in the time since testing started, but Goral said water sources that tested at or above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency parameters of 15ppb were shut off.
“The following actions to address each source included (even if not needed, but out of an abundance of caution) were: flushing of water lines, installation of new faucets, and adding inline water filters,” she said.
The water sources were retested and levels were within the normal range, the water sources were turned back on for use.
It’s unclear if students’ families were notified of the elevated levels of lead in the water sources but if they were, Goral said it would’ve been through one of the schools’ “various communication vehicles.”
- How often: Not determined at this time
- Last test completed: Unknown
- Parents notified: Unclear
- Water tester: Marine Chemist Service
“Prior to that, there was some random testing done,” said Michelle Price, spokeswoman for the school district.
Price noted there are 37 schools and buildings that were built prior to 1986 and the district is in the process of testing the remaining five schools and buildings.
Testing will be complete before the end of the school year and the district will complete a plan for future testing once the sampling is complete.
A plan for future testing will not be developed until all initial water sampling is complete.
“The law did not have any timeline attached to it,” Price said. “There’s no guidance in the law with how often [we test].”
If there are high levels of lead found, more than 20 parts per billion, the school district use of the water from that particular area and flush pipes, letting the water run.
Then they take a second sample and can replace the fixture or pipes, as needed.
Price added most of the testing is done during the summer months and there was more than 20 parts billion found but it was not a high level, and the affected areas were just taken off the water line.
It’s unclear when the affected areas were tested.
It’s also unclear if the school districts alert parents if there are high levels, however each school division stated if a parents requested information about lead testing or wanted to see the report, they would provide the information.