Retesting of water from faucets at several Gahanna-Jefferson Public School buildings that were found to have elevated levels of lead is expected to begin as soon as possible.

District Superintendent Steve Barrett said most of the affected faucets were replaced over the Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 24 and 25, and he expected to have the remaining faucets replaced by the end of last week.

Judy Hengstebeck, the district's communications coordinator, said Chapelfield Elementary School and Lincoln High School were scheduled to receive the final faucet replacements last week or over the weekend, if necessary.

She said the cost for the water testing, conducted by Gandee and Associates Inc., was $5,416, with the funds coming from the district's general fund.

Gahanna Middle School South was the only district building where no elevated levels of lead were found.

The cost of the faucet replacement at the 11 buildings involved isn't yet available, according to Hengstebeck.

"We are very glad we were able to expedite the testing process for all of the schools and we appreciate the patience from our school community," Barrett said. "We are fortunate to have the support of the Ohio EPA and the Franklin County Board of Health, as they continue to offer excellent information and guidance."

After all new faucets are installed, retesting of the water will begin as soon as possible, he said.

When initial testing results showed elevated levels of lead in classroom sink faucets and other school areas at Middle School East, Middle School West and High Point Elementary School, the district declined to disclose what the lead levels were or whether the levels were considered unsafe.

However, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said most of the results were below 15 micrograms per liter, and the taps that were above 15 were mostly lower-use fixtures for Middle School East, Middle School West and High Point.

James Lee, Ohio EPA media manager, said the U.S. EPA has not issued a health-based number for safe levels of lead in drinking water.

He said the Ohio EPA continues to use the "action level" of 15 micrograms per liter for corrective actions.

"Until U.S. EPA issues a health-based number, the action-level number in the federal lead and copper rule is the number available to Ohio EPA," Lee said.

Based on the information provided to the Ohio EPA from the schools, sampling results indicate fixtures are the likely source of lead, and the Ohio EPA agreed the focus should be on flushing and removing problematic fixtures from service, Lee said.

After speaking with water-quality experts, including those at the Ohio EPA and Franklin County Public Health, Barrett said, district leaders concluded some older faucets that aren't used frequently and for long periods of time have built up corrosion, a mix of lead, brass and copper.

"Until new test results confirm the water is within normal limits, the replacement faucets will remain out of service," Barrett said. "There are safe drinking fountains available in each of our buildings.

"We are committed to the safety and well-being of our students and staff," he said.

He said the district would provide sufficient bottled water to each building until all water systems test within normal limits.

Gahanna service and engineering director Rob Priestas said the city's water distribution system is "absolutely compliant" with OEPA requirements, for which testing is performed every three years.

"The latest round of testing was completed earlier this year," he said. "This year's sampling showed that our water distribution system is well within compliance with OEPA regulations (for lead and copper)."

Barrett said it's a common practice in school districts, particularly those with older buildings, to proactively monitor the state of facilities.

While the district hasn't regularly tested building water in the past, he said, the district intends to implement a consistent testing regimen going forward.

"Open communication with our Gahanna-Jefferson community is very important to us," Barrett said. "I encourage anyone with further questions to please contact my office at 614-471-7065."

More information about lead and water is available at epa.gov/safewater/lead.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla