SLPS water fountain

Saint Louis Public Schools are changing out fixtures in water fountains and sinks where they found high levels of lead. Photo by Wiley Price / St. Louis American

News about elevated lead levels in drinking water and faucets at dozens of Saint Louis Public Schools sparked concerns about lead poisoning and where to get children tested for exposure. High levels of lead in the blood can cause learning disabilities in children, behavior problems, and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death.

The City of St. Louis Department of Health provides free lead testing for students under age 6.

“ If a parent feels their child has been impacted by the lead found within the school's water fixtures, they should not hesitate to make an appointment for a free lead test by calling the Department of Health at (314) 657-1487 or (314) 657-1515,” said Harold Bailey, a health department spokesperson.

The City health department also takes walk-ins Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at its offices at 1520 Market St. downtown.

Parents may also request a lead test from their regular health care provider.

Data released by the district listed 32 out of 72 schools with at least one tested water sample with higher than accepted lead levels.

Bottled water is being provided to Carver, Clay, Mann, Patrick Henry, Peabody, Shenandoah, and Sigel elementary schools; Fanning Middle School; Nahed Chapman New American Academy; Beaumont, Northwest Law Academy and Sumner high schools.

Schools with at least one test water sample with excess lead levels but do have enough accessible water sources are not receiving bottled water. They include: Cote Brilliante, Gallaudet, Herzog, Hickey, Laclede, Meramec, Oak Hill and Woerner elementary schools; AESM, Busch, Carr Lane, Compton-Drew, Gateway, Langston, Long and Yateman middle schools; Clyde C. Miller, Gateway STEM, Roosevelt and Vashon high schools.

None of the SLPS Parent Infant Interaction Program sites at Roosevelt, Sumner and Vashon high schools tested above the 10 ppb internal threshold.

The final results of lead testing in SLPS schools were presented at last week’s school board meeting.

The districtwide testing is conducted by Environmental Consultants and analyzed by Teklab, a Missouri accredited laboratory specializing in drinking water analysis, both located in Collinsville, Illinois.

“The testing of SLPS water fountains and sinks is being conducted under the strictest conditions to ensure our water sources are as safe as possible for students and staff, SLPS stated.  “While corrective action is required for any level exceeding 20 parts per billion, the District has established a more stringent threshold of 10 parts per billion to address any potential future water issues.”

Out of 72 school buildings and 797 water sources tested, 45 sources tested at 20 parts per billion or greater and 43 sources were reported at 10 ppb to 19.9 ppb.

In a statement, the district said, “Corrective measures to remediate or replace each drinking fountain and sink are taking place as quickly as possible. In some cases, parts must be ordered and may delay immediate corrective action.  However, all schools will have adequate sources of consumable water at all times.”

The report classifies school water sources into three priority levels. Priority 1, with lead over 20 ppb, will have the water source removed from service, source of lead content identified, fixture replaced, retested before using; and will be rested yearly. Priority 2 sources have 10 to 19.9 ppb. Those sources will be removed from service, retested and if lead levels remain over 10 ppb, Priority 1 protocols will be followed. This affects 32 schools, according to the report. Priority 3 water sources with lead levels less than 10 ppb, will be inspected and placed on routine maintenance, with retesting taking place in three years or when conditions change.

The district allocated a million dollars to replace fixtures, faucets, fountains and other sources of lead contamination. Some of the work is already underway, taking place on the weekends.

SLPS spokesperson Patrick Wallace said water sources in question at Herzog, Woerner and Compton Drew have already been brought back into service, after the faucets were changed out and the water tested clean.

Testing children for lead exposure

The City health department tests approximately 12,000-13,000 students annually for blood lead levels. Testing of children who are age 6 and younger is critical, due to rapid brain development at those ages.

Matt Steiner, epidemiologist for the St. Louis Department of Health, said “What we see at age 1, is really good, high testing rates. A child comes in for their one-year appointment, and the doctor does a lead test. Unfortunately, in what we see at years that follow, that is, decreasing rates of testing.”

Steiner and health department Director Melba Moore spoke to The American about lead testing for children and about the health effects of lead (Read the Your Health Matters section in the August 4 -10, 2016 and August 11-17, 2016 issues).

Steiner said if the environmental conditions haven’t changed, the doctor oftentimes will not do a lead test, which is unfortunate, because there are other routes of exposure other than the home, such as daycare, school, grandma’s house.

“What we really want to see is every child tested every single year,” Steiner said.

Moore said it is important the health department’s educational efforts include reinforcing the importance of lead testing when they talk to parents. “Parents need to be advocates for their children, Moore said, saying parents need to ask the doctor for a lead test for their child, whether they just want to know, or if there is a change in their environmental circumstances.

Wallace said the district began testing for lead after parents from one school requested it.

“Mallinckrodt school last year, parents asked us to test the water and we did. That was in March, we tested their water and it came back clean,” Wallace said. “But after testing Mallinckrodt, I think the conversation was – why just test one school, we may as well test them all.”

SLPS district buildings that do not serve students will also have water testing by September 2.

For more information on getting children tested for lead, call the City of St. Louis Department of Health at (314) 657-1487 or (314) 657-1515.

To read the SLPS complete report on water testing, including FAQs and individual school test results, visit http://www.slps.org/water.

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