High lead levels found in water in 3 Urbana elementary schools

High lead levels found in water in 3 Urbana elementary schools

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URBANA — Water at some of the sinks and drinking fountains at three Urbana grade schools tested over the acceptable levels for lead, according to Superintendent Don Owen.

The affected schools include Yankee Ridge, Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. and Thomas Paine elementary schools, he said.

Champaign schools have also conducted lead testing, but parents of those students will have to wait a bit longer for the results.

Champaign's testing was done Aug. 8, and it will be about a month for the district to get the results, said Unit 4 spokeswoman Emily Schmit.

Specifically, there were 11 sites across the three Urbana schools that tested too high for lead — among them five drinking fountains, one restroom sink and one classroom sink at Yankee Ridge.

Also testing too high were one kitchen sink and one classroom sink at Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary and two kitchen sinks at Thomas Paine Elementary.

Most of the affected sinks and drinking fountains tested just over the limit, but the lead content was higher at two Yankee Ridge drinking fountains, Owen said.

Parents can rest assured that their kids didn't use those two drinking fountains, though. They're in an area that has been used as a storage closet, he said.

"I can safely say they have not been used by students for a long time," he said.

Not only that, "if you saw these drinking fountains, teachers wouldn't have used them either. They're the oldest-looking drinking fountains in the building," he said.

The water supply entering those three school buildings was determined to be safe, so replacements can be confined to affected sinks and drinking fountains, Owen said.

Throughout the rest of the district's elementary schools, tests found the lead content fell within acceptable levels, he said.

Urbana's Leal Elementary was exempt from testing because of the year and scope of renovations, according to Owen.

Water was immediately shut off at the affected drinking fountains and sinks at the three schools, and replacements have been ordered, Owen said.

The water will remain off at those affected sites until the necessary replacements are done, he said.

Urbana schools conducted the testing to meet the requirements of a new state law mandating lead testing at all Illinois grade schools and day care centers built before the year 2000. The law also requires parents and guardians of students to be notified about any lead results finding greater than or equal to 5 parts per billion, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Under the new law, the oldest elementary schools — those built before Jan. 1, 1987 — have to complete lead testing before the end of this year. Schools built between Jan. 2, 1987, and Jan. 1, 2000, have until the end of next year. Testing will need to be done at day care centers after state agencies develop the rules, according to IDPH.

Agency spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said public health is just starting to receive results of lead testing from school districts across the state.

Urbana conducted its lead testing in May and got the results this month, according to Owen.

"In general, we know that the water coming into our buildings is free of lead, and our overall infrastructure indicates no major problems," he said in a notice to parents.

Owen said the test results weren't totally surprising due to the age of the buildings subject to testing. "All the buildings that were required to test all fell into that range when it was common for construction to use fixtures that contained lead soldering within the fixtures," he said.

He also said the Urbana district is going beyond what would be required to fix the lead issues at the three affected schools.

One solution would have been just running the water at the affected sites for a couple of minutes every day to flush them. But even though that would have been a less costly solution, it might have been subject to human error, he said.

"It's about safety, and we're going to spare no expense when it comes to student safety," he said.

Owen also said the district plans to continue to sample and test water in the school buildings, though that follow-up isn't required by law.

Lead is harmful to health, and there aren't any known safe levels for lead in a child's blood. Low levels of exposure have been linked to nervous system damage, learning disabilities, shorter stature, hearing impairment and impaired formation and function of blood cells, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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