Multiple North Texas school districts test drinking water for lead

- Despite there being no federal, state or local mandate for school districts to test their drinking water for any reason, a FOX 4 Investigation has discovered most districts in North Texas are testing in the interest of student health and safety.

Out of the 20 largest school districts in the region, 16 districts have confirmed to FOX 4 that they are conducting or have already conducted lead testing at some or all of their schools.

The decision to test for many districts came after the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan made national headlines earlier this year. Lead exposure can lead to negative health effects, particularly in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Fort Worth ISD, the largest district in Tarrant County, announced widespread repairs after district-wide lead testing this summer. 

ORIGINAL STORY: Fort Worth ISD replacing water fountains due to lead contamination

“We did it because the national conversation about lead put a lot of questions in people's minds,” said spokesperson Clint Bond in October. “It was the right thing for us to do.”

As FOX 4 reported in August and October, Fort Worth ISD tested all 127 schools and discovered high lead levels in about 500 drinking fountains and a smaller number of water lines. Those water sources were shut down and have nearly all been replaced. As of mid-November, roughly 31 of the 127 schools tested in Fort Worth ISD are still waiting for some water fountains or water lines to be permanently replaced. (Link to Results)

The EPA recommends no more than 20 parts per billion of lead in school drinking water. Most districts are following the more restrictive measure of 15 parts per billion applied to municipal water systems.

FOX 4 reached out to the 20 largest districts in North Texas by enrollment and found that most are taking action to ensure that school drinking water is safe.

Keller ISD was the first to announce an “all clear” after testing all 39 schools in April and May. All samples came back safe. The district plans to conduct annual testing each spring. (Link to Results)

Arlington ISD and Mansfield ISD finished testing at all of their campuses earlier this fall and have already taken corrective action on a small number of problematic water sources.

Arlington ISD tested all consumable water sources at 82 schools in August and September. Out of 1,976 water samples tested, 36 samples at 18 schools came back with unsafe levels of lead, above 15 parts per billion. The district replaced some parts and resampled the 36 problematic water sources, narrowing it down to 10 water fountains at five schools that needed to be immediately shut down and replaced. The school most impacted is Thornton Elementary School, where samples from five drinking fountains showed elevated lead levels ranging from 54.6 to 260 parts per billion. Five other fountains have been taken out of service at Shackelford Junior High School, Arlington High School, Sam Houston High School and Lamar High School. Replacement water fountains have been ordered and are expected to arrive sometime later this year. (Link to Results)

Mansfield ISD received results from all 42 campus buildings in September. One sample from a kitchen sink at Willie Brown Elementary School exceeded the action level. A small number of sinks located in science laboratories and one water fountain at Brooks Wester Middle School also tested high. All of those fixtures have been replaced and retested and are now safe. (Link to Results)

Dallas ISD started lead and copper testing at all 227 of its schools on October 1. Results are expected sometime after Thanksgiving and will be posted on the district’s website here.

Garland ISD tested all of its 81 schools. Northwest ISD tested all 28 schools. Results for both Garland ISD and Northwest ISD are expected in the coming weeks.

(December 6, 2016 Update: Results from Garland and Northwest ISD)

Other districts have tested some of their schools and are at various stages in the process.

Plano ISD tested water samples from the kitchens at 33 of 72 schools and all samples came back at safe levels. Plano ISD plans to continue testing until all schools have been formally cleared. (Link to Results)

Richardson ISD has tested 9 of 54 schools so far. Undetectable or low levels were recorded at the schools tested so far. The district plans to finish testing all campuses. (Link to Results)

Birdville ISD has tested nine schools of its 33 schools so far. Results from seven of those nine schools show no problems. Results from the remaining two schools are not yet available. The district said all schools will be tested. (Link to Results)

Denton ISD tested seven of its 40 facilities in October. All sites tested were built before 1968. Because the samples all came back safe, the district said there are no plans to test the remaining schools. (Link to Results)

Mesquite ISD tested four of its 47 schools in September. All samples came back safe at Porter Elementary School, Hodges Elementary School, McDonald Middle School and Mesquite High School. There are no plans at this time to test more campuses. (Link to Results)

Lewisville ISD tested Lamar Middle School in February and Hedrick Elementary in September. Both schools came back with safe lead levels. A spokesperson said there are no plans at this time to test the rest of the district’s 69 schools, because most were built after 1985 and schools built before 1985 have gone through extensive renovations. (Link to Results)

Frisco ISD tested one of its 68 schools in May 2014. Water tests at McSpadden Elementary did not show any unsafe levels. A district spokesperson did not provide any further information when asked if the district has plans to test any other schools. (Link to Results)

Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD is in the process of testing all 26 campuses. District employees were trained in September and started with the oldest schools first. Results are expected in the coming months.

Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD has not conducted any lead testing at its 28 schools, but did begin a district-wide effort to replace and update water fountains back in 2008. As of November 2016, about nine fountains are waiting to be replaced. The City of Bedford plans to conduct some water tests over Winter Break to confirm there are no unsafe levels of lead.

Irving ISD, McKinney ISD, Grand Prairie ISD and Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD have not conducted any testing.

Grand Prairie ISD and Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD are considering testing in the future, but plans have not yet been announced.

Irving ISD said it does not plan to test, but the district does use a regular “flushing” method to clean out stagnant water at the end of school breaks and most drinking fountains have been replaced since 2009.

McKinney ISD said there are no plans to test, but confirmed that there are no lead pipes in any of its schools.

Information on Lead from the Environmental Protection Agency

“Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes.
Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.”

Read more on this topic from the EPA here.

Parents concerned about lead exposure in any form can ask their child’s doctor to conduct a blood test. The doctor can interpret the results and recommend ways to reduce exposure, if necessary.

For families living in older houses, experts also recommend testing the water to rule out any dangers at home.

Additional Resources

Continuing Coverage

Fort Worth ISD replacing water fountains due to lead contamination

FOX 4 Investigation: Fort Worth ISD still finding high levels of lead in school drinking water

Lead levels in drinking water lowered to safe standard at two more Fort Worth schools

FOX 4 Investigation: Multiple North Texas school districts test drinking water for lead

Lead testing at Garland ISD, Northwest ISD reveals small number of contaminated water sources

 

This investigation started as tip from the public. If you would like submit a tip or story idea, please email iteam@kdfwfox4.com.

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