All California public schools built before 2010 must test for lead in their drinking water under new direction from the state superintendent of public instruction and the Legislature.
The state law, Assembly Bill 746, and the requirement from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson requires these schools to test their water systems for lead before Jan. 1, 2019, in order to promote public safety and prevent a range of health effects on children.
“Students need fresh water, nutritious meals and regular physical activity to be ready to learn and succeed in class,” Torlakson said. “Cooperation with local water systems is critical to ensure proper testing.”
Under this new law, nearly every school in the Castaic Union, Newhall, Saugus Union, Sulphur Springs Union and William S. Hart Union High school districts must test for lead in their drinking water.
Through local and state water agencies, districts and schools will receive the lab results of their tested drinking water within 10 businesses days or within two school business days if the water is found to have high levels of lead.
If schools are found to have lead in their drinking water that exceed 15 parts per billion—or the equivalent of one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool—they must also alert their school communities and take immediate steps to shut down fountains and faucets and provide a new source of drinking water to students.
“This a relatively recent development,” said Michele Gookins, assistant superintendent of business services in the Sulphur Springs district. “We are working and partnering with the SCV Water Agency to schedule that testing to take place.”
In addition to partnering with local water agencies, Santa Clarita Valley school districts have the ability to work with the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water.
In January, the state agency announced that it would offer a free testing initiative to California’s nearly 9,000 K-12 public schools until Nov. 1, 2019 to help them comply with state law.
Under this initiative, the Water Board would take water samples from school drinking fountains, cafeteria, food preparation areas and reusable water bottle filling stations and test them for lead.
Schools that do test positive for lead in their drinking water may also have access to $9.5 million in funding through the Drinking Water for Schools Grant Program, which repairs treatment devices and drinking water fixtures and provides emergency bottled water to disadvantaged communities.
Some districts, like the Saugus district, already complete regular lead testing of their drinking water and report their findings to their school communities.
A Saugus district webpage on drinking water sampling results indicates that all schools were testing from Sept. 18 to Sept. 22, 2017 during the “early morning before staff and students were on campus.”
The school tested all sorts of water sources like outdoor and indoor drinking fountains, kitchen water stations and faucets in staff restrooms.
“All locations that were tested contained no levels of lead above the action level or the DLR,” the report completed by the Santa Clarita Water Division read. “This means that no further testing is required and no future sampling will need to be scheduled with Santa Clarita Water Division.”
Drinking fountains sit on the wall at Valencia Valley Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal
Other districts, like Sulphur Springs, Newhall and Castaic, are expected to schedule testing with local water agencies later this year.
“We have three different water agencies depending on where the school sites are located… so we are working with them to do testing,” Castaic district Superintendent Steve Doyle said. “They will be testing water into the school and testing drinking fountains in the school system. We haven’t scheduled any of those yet. They require complete water shutoff for a period of time so we’re looking at possibly spring break to do some of that testing.”
Those districts working with the SCV Water Agency must designated a district point person with knowledge of school facilities, choose sample locations at each school and provide times for the agency to visit and test drinking water.
“What they did is they sent us a notification of that and advised us to be ready with a checklist,” said Deo Persuad, assistant superintendent of business services in the Newhall district, which has not tested its water in the past. “We have been working with the city and the water agency and we’re waiting on them to schedule a time when they will come and do the testing for us at various sites.”
The Sulphur Springs district is also working with the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency to schedule time to test their school sites. Previously, the district monitored the agency’s reports regarding the lead in the water from its distribution sites.
“Checking it at the school site level is a new requirement,” Gookins said. “We are waiting to hear from the water agency as to their availability. They will be testing all the schools in the area due to this regulation.”
Although California has a newer water infrastructure than other parts of the nation, lead can get into drinking water at school campuses if there were corroded pipes old fixtures at the school.
“We never had lead pipes,” said Dave Caldwell, public relations officer for the Hart district. “But some of the refrigerated drinking fountains had lead holding tanks. Those were removed and disposed in the 1980s.”
Even at low levels, lead can cause behavioral problems and learning disabilities in children, especially those who are six years old and younger. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of total lead exposure for young children comes from drinking water.
“While the presence of lead in California’s water infrastructure is minimal compared to other parts of the country, additional testing can help ensure we are continuing to protect our most vulnerable populations,” said Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water.
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