Champaign school district replaces 13 drinking fountains over lead

Champaign school district replaces 13 drinking fountains over lead

CHAMPAIGN — Thirteen water fountains at four Unit 4 school buildings were found to contain lead, and six of those had lead content so high that the state is requiring the district to notify parents and guardians.

As a result, the district is deactivating or replacing those 13 drinking fountains.

Champaign school district spokeswoman Emily Schmit said Unit 4 tested sinks and drinking fountains at early-childhood and elementary schools in August to assess the level of lead in the water.

A total of 352 samples were taken by Reliable Environmental Solutions Inc., and Schmit said 86 percent (303) of those samples indicated lead levels of less than 5.0 parts per billion.

However, the other 49 samples indicated levels of lead greater than that. Six of those were samples from drinking fountains, with the rest from sinks.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health website, "lead in the body is not safe at any level. Even very small amounts of lead can permanently damage the brain as it develops. Lead makes it harder for the child to learn and causes behavior problems."

"It is unfortunate, but we are definitely working hard to address the issue," school board member Gianina Baker said.

School board President Chris Kloeppel, a plumber by trade, is quite familiar with the issues about lead.

"You are going to have lead in just about any water sample, at least trace amounts of it," Kloeppel said. "There are lead pipes in university buildings. There are lead pipes in some residential houses. It is something we are monitoring."

The highest reported lead levels were found at Robeson School, where two hallway drinking fountains reported lead levels of 29.9 and 32.2 ppb before flushing and 34.3 and 23.2 ppb after flushing. The district ended up removing and replacing all four drinking fountains at that school.

The Columbia Center also had two hallway drinking fountains with elevated lead levels. Both of them were replaced.

After a drinking fountain in Room 13 at the International Prep Academy was found to have elevated lead content, two fountains at the school were replaced, and four others were deactivated.

South Side Elementary School reported one hallway drinking fountain with elevated lead content. That fountain is scheduled to be removed and replaced this week.

While no sinks were removed as a result of the testing, Unit 4 Executive Director of Operations Paul Douglas said "every single sink that we tested will have a sign saying 'No drinking.'"

In addition, while Unit 4 is not required to do so, it will test all the remaining stand-alone drinking fountains in the district.

"We're not mandated to test our middle school and high school facilities, but we are going to proceed with the tests anyway because it is the right thing to do," Kloeppel said.

Kloeppel said he has received no feedback whatsoever from parents about the results of the lead testing.

"We notified the staff and families at the impacted schools," Schmit said.

A state law — Public Act 99-0922 — requires schools and day care facilities to test for lead contamination in water.

The act requires the oldest school buildings, those built before Jan. 1, 1987, to complete water testing by the end of 2017. The act requires parents and guardians of students be notified of lead results greater than or equal to 5.0 parts per billion.

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