The Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District notified district families and staff members Nov. 15 that elevated levels of lead have been found in classroom sink faucets and other school areas at Middle School East, Middle School West and High Point Elementary School.
Judy Hengstebeck, the district’s communications coordinator, said tests showed normal levels in drinking fountains and kitchen faucets.
“The elevated levels were found mostly in classroom sinks that do not have drinking-fountain spigots attached to them,” she said.
As part of the district’s continuing work to proactively monitor the state of facilities, Superintendent Steve Barrett said, the district recently hired outside experts to evaluate water in school buildings.
“This is a common practice in school districts, particularly those with older buildings,” he wrote in an email to families and staff. “Every building had water testing done to (ensure) our water is clean and safe for students, staff and guests.”
Although the district hasn’t tested building water regularly in the past, Barrett said, the intent is to implement it as part of a consistent testing regimen.
“In all, 11 buildings were tested, and hundreds of water samples were taken,” he said.
The district has received results only for High Point, Middle School East and Middle School West thus far.
The water was turned off to the sink faucets and other areas that showed elevated levels of lead, he said.
The district declined to disclose what the lead levels were or whether the levels were considered unsafe.
However, the Ohio EPA said the majority of results were below 15 micrograms per liter and the taps that were above 15 were mostly lower-use fixtures.
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.
He said the Ohio EPA is providing technical assistance to the school district because the agency was contacted for guidance Nov. 15.
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.
Barrett said the rooms affected include:
• Five faucets at East, 730 Clotts Road, in rooms 12, 15, 29 and 42.
• Five faucets at West, 350 N. Stygler Road, in rooms 127, 130, the clinic and the boys locker room.
• Fifteen faucets at High Point, 700 Venetian Way, in rooms 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 39, 65 and 71.
“We are taking this very seriously,” Barrett said. “We have asked for expedited testing of the remaining buildings so we can quickly understand the scope of this issue.”
He said the district contacted the Ohio EPA and is following the EPA’s recommendation to take all affected faucets out of service and flush water systems to remove any remaining lead from the pipes.
“Because we do not yet know the results of water testing in our other schools, we are taking all classroom faucets in all other buildings temporarily out of service,” Barrett said. “We are also taking the added measure of precaution of providing bottled water to all buildings for drinking water and cooking until testing is completed. We are grateful that in the results we have received so far, no primary drinking water areas were affected.”
He said he anticipates the remainder of the district’s building test results to be available within the next week.
“We will share information with teachers and parents in those buildings as they are received,” he said. “The safety and well-being of our students, staff, and families is our priority, and we will take all necessary steps to effectively address this issue in our schools.”
Lee said parents should stay in contact with the school district for the latest information.
“When there are lead/drinking-water issues in schools, the source is often the fixtures and their lead components,” he said. “Our understanding is that the school district is removing the fixtures from service and will be replacing them and making bottled water available to students.
“If the school was a public water system, they would be required to take the same actions for any fixture above 15 micrograms per liter.”
More information about lead in water sources is available online at https://www.epa.ohio.gov/pic/lead and https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead.