Dallas ISD addresses lead, copper contamination in drinking water at seven schools

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect which schools have been cleared after a second round of testing. The original report aired on FOX 4 on January 24, 2017.

Dallas ISD has confirmed to FOX 4 that the drinking water at four schools has been cleared as safe for consumption after initially showing elevated levels of lead and copper.

The update comes after the district revealed in January that it had discovered contaminated drinking water at seven schools.

DISD contracted with two private companies to randomly sample the drinking water at all 227 schools during the fall semester. Each school had at least one drinking water source sampled.

While there is no law requiring school districts to test their water, DISD is among dozens of districts in Texas that decided to test their water 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).

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends no more than 20 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in water for schools. Most school districts are following the more restrictive measure of 15 ppb applied to public water systems, including DISD. The EPA recommends action if copper levels exceed 1.3 parts per million.

Results released in January revealed levels of lead at James Madison, Skyline and Woodrow Wilson High Schools above EPA action levels. 

Elevated levels of copper were detected at Billy Dade Middle School, Preston Hollow Elementary School, Wilmer-Hutchins High School and Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary School.

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

The district re-tested all seven schools. The water at James Madison High School, Skyline High School and Woodrow Wilson High School returned with lead contamination levels below the limit. The district also cleared Wilmer Hutchins High School, because copper levels dropped in the second round of testing.
This left Billy Dade Middle School, Preston Hollow Elementary School and Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary School with contamination that prompted the district to take further action.

The district repaired or replaced affected units, such as drinking fountains, and retested the sample. Those new results have not been released.

Francisco Hernandez is the legal guardian for his younger brother, a sophomore at Skyline High School. He told FOX 4, he is concerned that parents were not notified of the district’s findings sooner.

Hernandez said he would have taken precautions for his sibling if he knew about water contamination at the school.

“I would have made him take water bottles, make his own lunch because I don't know if they use the water from the system to prep the lunch there,” Hernandez said.

Christopher Gray, Dallas ISD’s Director of Environmental Health and Safety, said the district’s priority was addressing the issue, but acknowledged worried parents.

“The sheer logistics of this undertaking complicated how things were actually dispersed,” Grant said. “Obviously in hind sight there were some things we could have done better, we can improve on but the intent was to, again, make sure we were addressing the health concerns.”

After local media outlets, including FOX 4, reported the lead testing results for the first time to parents, the district sent letters home to parents at the seven affected schools on January 24, 2017.

The district also had a website set up in October for its lead testing program. However, lab results for several schools are still missing, including all seven schools affected.

You can visit the site here.

DISD did provide a chart to FOX 4 summarizing results from the first round of testing at the seven schools. Red numbers indicate levels above EPA action levels. One result under James Madison High School (0.16) is not in red, despite it being above EPA action levels, which may be a clerical error.

FOX 4 has requested copies of all lab results from all schools under the Texas Public Information Act, but we have not yet received the documents to independently review the raw data.

Dallas ISD Lead Testing Summary Chart (First Round Results Only) by Vicki Chen on Scribd

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.

Letter to Parents Regarding Lead Testing by Vicki Chen on Scribd