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Schools take action after lead tests

Districts replacing fixtures, developing testing schedules

The Columbian
Published:
3 Photos
Ryan Romilly, in the orange T-shirt, and Jamie Wisenbaugh of Sarkinen Plumbing install a new fountain that provides filtered drinking water Monday at View Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield.
Ryan Romilly, in the orange T-shirt, and Jamie Wisenbaugh of Sarkinen Plumbing install a new fountain that provides filtered drinking water Monday at View Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As Southwest Washington’s public schools prepare to open for a new school year, the quality of drinking water available to students, faculty and staff remains an issue in some districts.

After publicity over lead contaminating drinking water samples at Portland schools, Clark County’s school districts took action to test the potable water sources in their buildings. In most cases, the water was found to be within federal and state water quality rules. But several districts reported problems were detected at various locations. Most of those have been addressed over the summer.

Some districts, most notably Battle Ground, are still awaiting water quality test results. Results have been delayed in part because a flurry of samples swamped water quality laboratories.

Here is the latest on what is going on in local public schools:

• Evergreen: Tests in Evergreen Public Schools found “no actionable levels of lead” in 21 schools, said Gail Spolar, district spokeswoman.

However, tests found elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at Image Elementary School. Lead levels at the school ranged from 20 to 50 parts per billion, which exceeds the Washington state school rule of 20 parts per billion and the federal limit of 15 parts per billion. The school was built in 1976.

Over the summer, 15 fixtures were replaced at Image Elementary. Some fixtures also were replaced at the following schools after tests detected “actionable” levels of lead: Burton, Fircrest, Harmony, Hearthwood, Illahee, Mill Plain, Riverview, Sifton, Silver Star and Sunset elementary schools and Wy’east Middle School.

• Battle Ground: The district sampled water over a three-week period this summer, but hasn’t received results yet. So many school districts have sent their school drinking water tests to the same lab that the results have been delayed by about two weeks, said Rita Sanders, district spokeswoman.

• Vancouver: Vancouver Public Schools tested water in all district facilities in the spring. Of the 47 sites tested, 32 had no lead detected.

“All schools came back within the safe range,” said Mick Hoffman, the district’s assistant superintendent, chief of operations. “We had only two schools test over .002 parts per million. That’s far below what’s considered allowable.”

The Vancouver district retested the water at any sites that had any amount of lead, Hoffman said, “to confirm the results for the safety of our kids.”

• Camas: In the Camas School District, two water sources tested positive for elevated levels of lead: Room 3 at Dorothy Fox Elementary School, which tested at 58 parts per billion, and a sink in the Zellerbach Administration Center, which tested at 22 parts per billion. Both tested positive in May.

In July, the district replaced bubblers in water fountains at Dorothy Fox that concerned district officials, including the one in Room 3. After replacing the bubblers, the tests showed lower traces of lead in the water. Room 3’s water dropped to 6.7 parts per billion, according to a sample from July 7.

The district also started a new three-year lead testing cycle. First up, the district tested all elementary schools on June 29, and no samples turned up with elevated levels of lead. Next year, the district will test middle schools and in 2018, the high school fountains will be tested.

Camas schools spokeswoman Doreen McKercher wrote in an email that the district will act on any sample that comes back at or above 15 parts per billion, and will do so through “fixture replacements, use of filters or making a requirement of running the fixture for a set period of time prior to use.” Lead builds up in pipes when water is not used regularly at a source.

• Ridgefield: The district is in the process of setting up a yearly testing program, according to Neil Brinson, maintenance and operations manager.

In June, the district announced spot tests detected elevated levels of lead in six places: three at Ridgefield High School and three at View Ridge Middle School. After those initial spot tests the district conducted more complete tests.

At the high school, 12 sources tested high for lead: four drinking fountains and eight sinks. In View Ridge, six sources — three fountains and three sinks — tested for elevated levels of lead.

The plan in Ridgefield is to replace all the drinking fountains that tested for at least 15 parts per billion with new water fountains that have filters. Some of that work took place on Monday. Brinson said he’s still researching the best method for replacing the sinks.

• Other districts: Drinking water tests conducted earlier this year in Hockinson, La Center, Washougal and Woodland found no problems that required remediation.

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